Ninkovich outdoes himself

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Ninkovich outdoes himself

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey -- Rob Ninkovich has said he strives never to be outdone.

But what if he shows himself up?

Ninkovich had five tackles and an assist Sunday night in New England's 37-16 win over the Jets. No, that's not all. The linebacker also snagged two interceptions -- one returned for a touchdown -- on New York's home turf.

He spoke after the game. This time, aloft in a rare podium appearance.

"I haven't seen the first interception on tape yet," he said with a smile, "but I was just dropping back in coverage and I think the receiver missed it, and then Jerod Mayo tipped it and it came my way. So it was just one of those lucky tips, it came right to me. Opportunity came and I caught it."

The Patriots could say the same about Ninkovich.

Since arriving in New England in 2009, his game has taken on new dimensions. Last season he started in 10 of 16 contests, finishing with 62 combined tackles, four sacks, four passes defensed and two interceptions. He can double those totals this year. Ninkovich doesn't come off the bench anymore; from special teamer, to Patriots linebacker, to guaranteed weekly starter, he's carved out an important place in the Patriots defense.

People who've worked with him in the past, like Purdue defensive coach Mark Hagen, aren't surprised by the linebacker's contributions. Ive been in college football for 15 years and I can probably only put one other guy in his category in terms of how hard he works and how hard he plays," Hagen once reflected.

The work ethic has translated well to the NFL. Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Sunday's effort but without a hint of humor. Of course Ninkovich can create heads-up plays, "being the player that he is," said Belichick.

The second interception developed halfway into the fourth quarter. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez took the snap at his own 10. Ninkovich flattened tight end Dustin Keller at the line. Seeing Keller wasn't a threat to get back in the play, Ninkovich floated toward the middle of the field and trained his eyes on New York's signal caller. Sanchez acquired LaDanian Tomlinson as his target. Ninkovich read the route.

Pass picked.

The linebacker ran 12 yards for the touchdown. Jets fans ran for the exits.

"There's so much pressure that we put into this week with jamming their receivers, jamming tight ends and being able to take away reads. I think he stepped up big for us," defensive captain Vince Wilfork said. "Just knowing the right situation and he was there. That was his job, he knew where he had to be. That's just playing good situational football."

That's the kind of football Rob Ninkovich plays.

Brady have animosity for Ravens after Deflategate? 'Try to put everything aside'

Brady have animosity for Ravens after Deflategate? 'Try to put everything aside'

FOXBORO -- It's not about their memorable regular-season game from 2007. It's not about their playoff battles in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014. It's not even about Deflategate. 

Tom Brady said on Thursday that the Monday Night Football matchup between the Patriots and Ravens will be solely based on what those two teams can do on that particular night. Nothing about their history as rivals will creep into Brady's mind, he said.

Or at least he'll try to make sure that's the case.

"I think all these games are kind of the same," Brady answered when asked if he had any animosity for the Ravens for their role in sparking Deflategate. "I just look at the opponent, look at what they do, and the only thing that matters is what they do this week in practice and in the game.

"I think you just try to put everything aside, and whether it was that, or whether it was a playoff game a couple of years ago, or whether it was a regular season game a couple of years ago or championship games . . . I mean, none of those really matter.

"It’s really going to be about what this team does this week and like I said, Coach [Bill Belichick] has tried to put a lot of urgency on that. We understand that. We know we’re facing a team that’s 7-5. They’re at the top of their division. They have a lot of confidence in what they do and so do we. It’s going to be a good, tough matchup."

Casting aside the complicated backstory of these two teams may be difficult to do, particularly when the Ravens had some hand in helping get the ball rolling on what eventually became a four-game suspension for Brady. But the Patriots quarterback knows he'll have to have a signular focus against the league's top defense when it comes to yards allowed and rushing yards allowed. 

"No one has done a better job over the course of the season than them," Brady said. "I think they do things really well in a lot of areas, so they’re good in first-down defense, good in third-down defense, third-and-short, good on the goal line, good in the red area. They contest every yard, so I think that’s the mark of a good defense.

"They don’t give you anything easy. You have to earn it. I think they do a good mix with their scheme and also with their personnel, so we’re prepared for a 60-minute game. That’s what we’re practicing for. If it’s something different than that, then we’ll adjust, but we know it’s going to be a good, tough matchup."

Slater returns to Patriots practice; no new receivers added to the roster

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Slater returns to Patriots practice; no new receivers added to the roster

FOXBORO -- Patriots special-teams units saw their captain return to practice on Thursday afternoon. 

Matthew Slater was back on the field behind Gillette Stadium after missing the start of Wednesday's on-the-field work. He's been dealing with a foot injury he suffered in Week 11 against the 49ers and did not play against either the Jets or Rams. Slater practiced twice last week but was held out of last Friday's work. 

Martellus Bennett, who is dealing with ankle and shoulder issues that he's admitted are plaguing him, was back at practice as well. Absent from the media availability portion of the session were receiver Danny Amendola (ankle) and safety Jordan Richards (knee).

One added note based on an observation from Wednesday's practice that running back DJ Foster spent some time with receivers: That's not necessarily anything new to him, he said Thursday. He has spent time keeping his receiving skills sharp all season, and that has included spending time with the receiver group occasionally. Foster does, however, understand the team's situation at wideout -- the team has three healthy players at that position at the moment -- and he realizes he has to be ready for whatever role is asked of him. The Patriots have not added an additional roster to the 53-man roster this week, making Foster a candidate to help fill in.