Ninkovich fumble recovery comes at perfect time

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Ninkovich fumble recovery comes at perfect time

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @dannypicard
FOXBORO --Bill Belichick isnt afraid to go for it on fourth down.Everyone in New England and the rest of the football world knows that.

And the Patriots coach proved that to be true once again onSunday at Gillette Stadium against the San Diego Chargers.

Clinging to a 20-14 lead with just under 12 minutes left inthe fourth quarter, Belichick decided to keep Tom Brady and the rest of theoffense on the field for a 4th-and-4 at the San Diego 49-yard line.

Bradys attempted pass to Deion Branch was incomplete, andNew England turned the ball over, while giving the Chargers pretty good fieldposition and a chance to take the lead. After the game, Belichick acknowledged that the decision to go for it was tied to the health of his punter, Zoltan Mesko, who was injured earlier in the game.

But still, they went for it on fourth down, and they failed to convert.

Three plays into San Diego's ensuing drive, runningback Mike Tolbert was stuffed in the backfield by Jerod Mayo, and lost theball, leading to Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich recovering the fumble at theNew England 39-yard line.

Oh yeah, it was big, said Ninkovich after the game. Rightafter that fourth down, we didnt make it, and we had to go out there and makea stop. That was a big play in the game for us, and then the offense went downand scored with that. So it was a big turn for us in that game.

Brady drove his troops 61 yards down the field and capped itwith a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski, giving the Pats a28-14 lead after the two-point conversion, with 8:40 left in the game.

New England went on to win 35-21, but had Ninkovich neverrecovered Tolberts fumble and the Chargers went on to score a touchdown fortheir second straight possession, then many would be talking about Belichicksdecision to go for it on 4th-and-4 from midfield.

Its all hypothetical. But the bottom line is, New Englandsdefense bailed out the rest of the team on that San Diego possession thatfollowed a failed fourth-down conversion.

Ninkovichs fumble recovery was just one of four turnoverscaused by the Patriots defense in Sundays win. But given the circumstancesand timing, it was the most crucial.

It was great, said Patriots safety Sergio Brown after thewin. Like we said, we went into the game trying to get turnovers, and it feltlike all of them were perfect timing. We felt good about it, and were glad wewere able to come up with it.

Its huge for us, said Patriots wide receiver Wes Welkerabout his defense causing turnovers. Any time we can get stops, its an extrapossession for us, and I think we need to take better advantage of thosechances and make sure were putting points on the board and playingcomplementary football out there with each other.

Danny Picard is on twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.

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)