Ninkovich steps up and forces game-winning fumble


Ninkovich steps up and forces game-winning fumble

FOXBORO - Somebody needed to step up and make a game-winning play. For the Patriots defense, it failed to make that big play last Sunday in Seattle, when the game was on the line.

One week later, New England found themselves in a similar situation. Only this time it was at home, and it was against the New York Jets.

And with 7:30 left in overtime, linebacker Rob Ninkovich stepped up and made the type of game-winning play that wasn't made last Sunday.

Ninkovich's forced fumble and eventual fumble recovery ended Sunday's game with a Patriots victory. It came after Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 48-yard field goal to give New England a 29-26 lead.

With the new overtime rules, the Jets then had an opportunity to drive down the field and either tie the score with a field goal of their own, or end the game with a touchdown.

Ninkovich's hit on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez ended any hope of either of those scenarios playing out, and gave the Patriots a 29-26 win.

"Just finish," said Ninkovich afterwards. "I think it's been tough the last couple of games that we lost, having the lead and then they come back and we lose at the end of the game. It's just a terrible feeling. So, this game, the whole time I'm thinking, 'Hey, this can't happen again. We've just got to go fight for all four quarters.'

"We held them to a field goal at the end, and in overtime, we said, 'Hey, it's overtime. We know that we're going to get a chance. So let's go out there and finish this game.'"

On 2nd-and-10 from the Jets 40, Ninkovich came rushing from the left side. By the time he got through, Sanchez was already losing his balance, as Jermaine Cunningham had the Jets quarterback by the leg. As Sanchez went to throw the ball, Ninkovich stormed in and connected with a big hit and knocked the football loose.

"It was just an edge rush," said Ninkovich. "Jermaine Cunningham did a great job of getting inside on the guard. So, it shortened that corner for me, and I was able to get around the guy. I saw Jermaine on his legs, trying to get Sanchez down. And he tried to throw it. So I just got the ball, knocked him down and picked up the ball.

"It was a great feeling to have the offense go down, score, kick a field goal, and then have the defense finish it out. It's great for the defense to be able to do that."

Rushing the quarterback was Bill Belichick's focus on that drive. And he reiterated that on the sideline before they took the field one last time.

"Well, Bill Belichick in overtime came to us and said We're going to need the rush. Were going to need the rush. And I think everybody on that defensive line, or whoever was a part of our pass rushing unit, I think we all understood that we had to get after it nonstop," said Vince Wilfork. "I was doubled on that play, but I just tried to keep the wheels turning, just in the back of my mind knowing how important it was to get out and get off the field and try to win this ball game. Because our offense put us in a good spot, going down, kicking the field goal and putting us ahead. We knew if we got a stop, the game would be over. And I think the guys responded well.

"Sometimes you play this game and you want to blow people out, but it's not like that all the time," added Wilfork. "Its like I said, a division game: they know us, we know them, mixing in a few wrinkles, but when the game is on the line, youre going to go to your best stuff, you're going to go to your best players. I think we understood that and the Jets understood that. At the end of the day, we just made a few more plays than those guys."

The Patriots defense did have its fair share of issues once again on Sunday, allowing 328 yards in the air. But Ninkovich's effort in overtime made up for those mistakes, and proved that this Patriots team has the ability to close out games with their defense.

"That's the NFL," said Ninkovich. "You're playing against another good team. Obviously they know us, we know them. They're just hard-fought games. I think that, obviously, there's things that we need to do better. But, coming out with a win, in the division, that's big for us."

"We were kind of preparing to go back out there, and then Rob Ninkovich made a great play," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "Those are the kind of plays you need. If you want to win games, you've got to make plays, and that's a great example of a game-winning play. We've all got to start making more of those."

Belichick: Kickers are like golfers; have to hit driver, sand wedge, 5-iron


Belichick: Kickers are like golfers; have to hit driver, sand wedge, 5-iron

In searching for answers on what might be going on with Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, coach Bill Belichick was asked on Monday if there was any chance that Gostkowski's mechanics on kickoffs may be affecting his field goals. With the new touchback rule encouraging the Patriots to use more "pop-up" kicks to the goal line this season, might Gostkowski's swing have been altered?

Belichick said that the two plays are separate and that the Patriots expect Gostkowski to be able to execute a whole series of different types of kicks as part of his job.

"Well, I think they’re definitely different," Belichick said on a conference call. "I don’t think there’s any question about that. I mean, it would be like a golfer. You’ve got to be able to hit a sand wedge. You’ve got to be able to hit a five-iron. You’ve got to be able to drive. You’ve got to be able to putt.

"That’s what kickers and punters do. There’s plus-50 punts, there’s field goals, there’s kickoffs, there’s backed-up punts, there’s punts against a heavy rush, there’s punts against a six-man box where the gunners both are getting double-teamed. And just like golf, there’s wind conditions and not wind conditions and so forth. So it’s not like like you’re standing out there in a driving range and just banging the ball away every time. Especially on place kicks, you’re dealing with a center and a holder and timing on the play. It’s not like you’re just placing the ball down there on a tee and kicking it like you are a golf ball or a kickoff.

"Yeah, they’re definitely different, and whether it’s a punter or a kicker you’re talking about, they have to master different skills, different kicks, different types of kicks, different things that are specific to their position, just like every other player and every other athlete, for the most part, has to do. If you’re a basketball player, you just can’t shoot free throws. You’ve got to be able to make some other shots, too. That’s part of the position, being able to do the things that are required of that position, and they’re not all the same. I don’t think they’re all the same for anybody."

Belichick was also asked about how Gostkowski is coached. There are position-specific coaches with every NFL franchise, but when it comes to special teams, there is typically a special-teams coordinator and little else. There is no kicking coach, generally, nor a position coach dedicated to punting or snapping. 

Belichick said that he feels the team has enough support in place, starting with special teams coach Joe Judge, in order to help Gostkowski through his difficult stretch.

"I think Joe’s very knowledgable about the techniques of kicking," Belichick said. "I know when I became a special teams coach and coached special teams for many years as an assistant coach, and I continue to be involved with it as a head coach, that’s one of the things I had to learn. I had to learn how to coach those individual specialists, the snappers, the kickers, the punters, the returners. I don’t think it’s any different than coaching any other position. Things you don’t know, you need to learn. The things you do know, you need to be able to teach to the players, however you acquire that information.

"Some of that certainly comes from the players, especially when you coach good players at the position that you’re coaching, you can learn a lot from them, just like I learned a lot from many of the players that I coached. Going back to people like Dave Jennings as a punts or Carl Banks or Lawrence Taylor or Pepper [Johnson], guys like that, as linebackers with the Giants. However you acquire that information, you acquire it and you have to be able to convey it and teach it to the players and recognize technique or judgment.

"There’s a whole host of things that go into performance, but all the things that are related to those; be able to figure out which ones are the most important and which ones need to be corrected and so forth. I think Joe’s very knowledgeable on that, as was Scott O’Brien. I have a lot of experience with that myself. That’s what coaching is. You don’t know, then you’ve got to find out. Nobody knows everything. No coach knows everything about every position. Maybe a guy’s played it for a decade, he might be well-versed in that position. But I’d say for the most of the rest of us that haven’t done that, things you don’t know, you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to find out, you’ve got to figure them out."

Giardi's stopwatch: Brady quick vs. Steelers


Giardi's stopwatch: Brady quick vs. Steelers

How quick was Tom Brady's release in the New England Patriots win over the The Pittsburgh Steelers? Glad you asked. 

On average, Brady took 2.11 seconds to release the ball. That’s not as quick as he was against Cleveland, when averaged 1.86 seconds, but still pretty flippin' quick.

2.05 - Gun. Edelman crosser 9 yards
0.80 - WR screen to Edelman - 2 yards
5.34 - Gun. Flushed. 13 yards to White
2.04 - Gun. Edelman crosser. 6 yards
1.59 - Gun. Screen to White. 19 yards. TD
1.65 - Gun. Edelman at the hash. 9 yards
1.72 - Gun. Edelman crosser. 11 yards
3.17 - Gun. Hogan outside the numbers. 13 yards
2.25 - Play action. Incomplete short left to White
1.24 - Edelman right flat. 6 yards
2.37 - Gun. Deep in to Gronkowski. 13 yards
2.20 - play action. Happy feet, Incomplete to Bennett
2.90 - Gun. Bolden drop
1.53 - Gun. Incomplete to White at the numbers
1.79 — Gun. Edelman crosser. 7 yards
1.36 - Gun. Short right to Blount. 7 yards
1.66 - Gun. Edelman drop 
3rd Quarter
3.44 - Gun. Awful backhanded flip throw. Incomplete to White
2.25 - Gun. Crosser to Bennett. 5 yards
1.39 - Gun. Short right to Edelman. 3 yards
2.18 - Gun. Ground seam. 36 yards. TD
1.59 - Gun. Short middle to Edelman. 11 yards
1.33 - Gronkowski. short right. 7 yards
3.16 - Play action. 37 yards to Gronkowski
3.89 - Gun. Pressure. Incomplete deep left to Mitchell