Ninkovich injury a big concern

Ninkovich injury a big concern
December 31, 2012, 2:17 am

FOXBORO -- Rob Ninkovich's injured hip will be more fully evaluated on Monday but the initial outlook doesn't appear encouraging.

The Patriots defensive end went down with 6:33 remaining in the first half. He appeared to be in significant pain as he lay on the field and needed substantial help from the medical staff to make it to the sidelines. Ninkovich hasn't missed a game since 2009. He rarely misses practices or even plays.

The 28-year-old is having his best NFL season with eight sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He's been the crunch-time playmaker the Patriots have seemed to miss the past few seasons.

If Ninkovich is gone for the season -- and that could be in play -- the return of Jermaine Cunningham from his PED suspension, the development of rookie Justin Francis and the continued steady play of Trevor Scott all help offset the loss. But none are quite as versatile and seemingly built for the clutch the way Ninkovich has shown himself to be.