Ninkovich outdoes himself


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.

Rex Ryan: Zero focus on 'extracurricular things' vs. Patriots


Rex Ryan: Zero focus on 'extracurricular things' vs. Patriots

FOXBORO -- Seems as though the Bills don't quite have their stories straight. 

On the one hand, you have Bills players, who say that they won't hesitate to retaliate if a Patriots player gets near one of their pregame warmup drills, as Jacoby Brissett did in Week 4. 

On the other hand, you have the Bills coach, who sounded less eager for there to be any kind of scrap before this weekend's game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. 

"No, I mean with us, just go out and warm up," Ryan said in a conference call Wednesday. "That’s what you do, but any of the extracurricular things, you know, there’s absolutely zero focus on that, and shouldn’t be any focus on that. It’s just about playing games.

"I mean if people want to show how tough they are, put the boxing gloves on and get in the ring or something. That might be more impressive -- I don’t want Gronk by the way.

"But I definitely don’t want to see that happen, and our focus is 100 percent on the game and doing the very best we possibly can."

It's an interesting comment from a coach who has made it very clear that he wanted to build a "bully" in Buffalo. His team shut out the Patriots after trying to intimidate New England's rookie quarterback before the game. Did his team not benefit somehow from what occurred before kickoff that day?

He doesn't think so.

"It had nothing to do with our team . . . Absolutely nothing," he said. "You know, those things happen every now and then but it was no big deal. It did absolutely nothing for us."

Roethlisberger to Brady: I've never done this before but...can I have your jersey?

Roethlisberger to Brady: I've never done this before but...can I have your jersey?

Tom Brady has fans everywhere, apparently. Even in Pittsburgh. Even on the Steelers roster. 

Showtime's Inside the NFL caught video of Brady meeting with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before Sunday's game between New England and Pittsburgh. 

The pair hugged near the 50-yard line at Heinz Field. Brady called Roethlisberger "big guy." Roethlisberger, who was out with a knee injury, told Brady he wanted to play "so bad."


Then Roethlisberger became a fan. And like many of them, he had a request. 

"Um, hey, listen," he said. "I've never done this before, but I would love to get a jersey at some point. It'd mean...There's not many I want to put in my office. You're the best, dude."

Brady was happy to oblige. Just not right at that moment. 

"Sure, I'd love to," Brady said. "I'll get you after the game."