Ninkovich finding his game again

Ninkovich finding his game again
October 8, 2012, 2:01 am

FOXBORO -- After New England lost to Baltimore in Week 3, Rob Ninkovich decided he'd had enough.
And the pressure he sought, despite the Patriots defense playing poorly as a whole, went squarely on his own shoulders.
"I knew I was capable of making some big plays and being a guy you could count on," he said. "The first couple of weeks I didn't feel that I was playing my style, the way I'd like to play. I felt the last couple of weeks I've been trying to change some things."
Ninkovich has 11 combined tackles, three forced fumbles, and two sacks in the two games since.
He played especially inspired football this weekend against Denver.
In the third quarter, New England went up 24-7 when Tom Brady scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Manning began his team's ensuing drive in shotgun on the Broncos 20. Ninkovich had been setting up early, trying to bullrush and collapse the pocket. He hit gold on first-and-10, sacking Manning for a loss of three and knocking the ball loose with a swipe of his arm.
Vince Wilfork recovered the fumble to set Brady up on the Denver 14.
Three plays later: Patriots touchdown.
Ninkovich had a forced fumble the previous week against Buffalo, but the turnover against Denver felt different. He was starting to string something together.
The linebacker was starting to settle in at defensive end.
"It's just. Sometimes moving to a different position is difficult. I was just trying to make sure I do my job, do the best I could for the team. As a defensive end you can't play the pass on a run situation and play the run in a pass situation. So it's just something that you get a feel for."
Ninkovich signed with the Patriots in 2009 and had a breakout season the following year. He started at outside linebacker then, recording a career-high 62 tackles, four sacks, and two interceptions in 16 games. He continued to improve his game in 2011.
But this year New England has the talent it wants at linebacker and Ninkovich isn't included. Not wanting to take a playmaker off the field, coaches moved him to defensive end.
Okay, then. He's always played toward the end of the line of scrimmage, now they've just taken pass coverage off his plate. Now it's contain, contain, contain. Stop the run. Pressure the quarterback.
All things he did when playing the position in college.
"It's like riding a bike. I'm happy to be back on it," he smiled.
His teammates are happy, too. Not only has Ninkovich's recent reemergence been noticed by his peers, but there's almost some relief attached.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo said it's great to see such a grinder hit pay dirt on game day.
"He's impressive, man," Mayo said Sunday. "He's a guy who goes out there and plays hard each and every week -- even from the preseason on. Just because the big plays don't come doesn't mean he's not out there playing well. I'm really happy for him."
The new goal for Ninkovich is growing his comfort zone and keeping his play elevated.
It shouldn't be too hard. At 6-2, 260, he can look small next to some opposing tackles and tight ends. Thankfully, there's an aspect of being disruptive and causing turnovers that just comes naturally.
"You're not thinking about it everything happens so fast and it's just a part of playing football and learning things you have through your whole life and career. You see a ball -- try and get it out.
"It's all about just playing football."
Playing the way he knows he can.