Ninkovich not to be held down

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Ninkovich not to be held down

FOXBORO -- Rob Ninkovich has been hurt before.
He appeared in just three games his rookie year, as a member of the Saints in 2006, before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Other knee issues have come, slowed him down, and mercifully gone.
At least the pain provides perspective.
Two weeks ago Ninkovich suffered a hip injury in New England's season finale against the Dolphins. The defensive end went down hard in the second quarter. He couldn't walk on his own.
As Ninkovich was helped to the sideline, each arm draped over the shoulders of a team trainer, the situation looked grim.
The Patriots were gearing up for a playoff run. Would they have to do it without their starting left end? Would Ninkovich be denied his chance at postseason redemption after last year's Super Bowl loss?
"I've had a couple of injuries that, when it happens you think it could be your career," he shrugged Sunday. "Actually, this last time it's happened to me a few times, unfortunately, so I was a little bit better taking it and saying, 'Calm down. Don't get too upset. You don't know what it is yet.'
"I was happy that it wasn't affect me going forward in the playoffs."
Not only was he active for Sunday's Divisional Playoff, he resumed his starting role. Patriots defensive captain Vince Wilfork said after the game, a 41-28 win over Houston, how much it meant to have Ninkovich out there.
"He's a tough player. He's a great, great player. He's a student of the game. He loves to play. The passion that he has for the game anything you want in a teammate, that's what he brings to the table. His leadership -- he's kind of behind the scenes -- but he's a great leader on and off the field."
Head coach Bill Belichick added, "Hes had a great season. His production is right up there at the very top of the league at his position. Hes made big plays for us in the past sacks, strips, fumbles, recovered fumbles, tackles for loss, all that. We know hes got good hands."
Unfortunately for Houston, his hands were particularly excellent on Sunday.
The Texans faced third-and-8 on New England's 37 in the third quarter. Quarterback Matt Schaub got into shotgun. Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo saw something from Houston and communicated it to Ninkovich, who dropped into coverage.
Schaub thought he had fullback James Casey working over the middle. Instead, he threw a ball into the arms of a leaping Ninkovich.
Picked.
"Hes had many interceptions before; made a great play there," Belichick noted. "We blitzed from the outside, he dropped down inside, got underneath the route and really made a great catch on the ball. It was high, tough catch but Robs a good athlete. He makes it look easy; he catches the ball well."
The interception grew greater as New England turned it into points.
Ninkovich was downed at his own 37. The Patriots offense went the rest of the way on six plays executed in less than three minutes. The score put them up 31-13 and put Houston back on its heels.
"He's a special player for us and it shows," said Wilfork. "He makes plays after plays because he puts the time in and works his tail off. We see a lot of plays being made in practice, so we expect it; they don't come by surprise to us because we know what type of player this guy is."
His teammates laud him for being a workhorse of a player. This week, Ninkovich was just grateful to play, period.
"I felt pretty good tonight. This week I'm going to get even better. I'm happy I'll be able to go out there and give 100-percent."

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)