Ninkovich not to be held down

Ninkovich not to be held down
January 14, 2013, 3:38 am
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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.
"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."