FOXBOROUGH — Rob Ninkovich is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to forcing fumbles.
Ninkovich and fellow Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham combined on a 15-yard sack of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in overtime. Ninkovich forced and recovered a fumble on the play, giving the Patriots possession and ending New England’s 29-26 victory.
“It was just an edge rush. Jermaine Cunningham did a great job of getting inside on the guard, so it kind of shortened that corner for me and I was able to get around the guy,” the Patriots linebacker said after the game. “I saw Jermaine on his legs trying to get [Mark Sanchez] down and he tried to throw it, so I just got the ball, knocked him down and picked up the ball.”
The forced fumble was Ninkovich’s team-leading fourth of the season, and his fourth in as many weeks. Former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel had five forced fumbles in 2007, the most for any Patriot within the last 20 years.
Ninkovich was asked what his mind-set at the end of a close game like Sunday’s nail biter.
“Win the game. Do my job,” Ninkovich said. “Whatever my job is on that particular play, do it to the best of my abilities and try and walk away with a victory. So we did that and I’m happy.”
Even though Ninkovich appears to be playing at a higher level this season, he said he was playing just as hard last season.
“I feel like the opportunities are there and last year I was playing hard as well, so every time I’m out there I’m going to make the best of my opportunity,” Ninkovich said.
Ninkovich talked about his comfort level with switching between linebacker and defensive end throughout the game.
“Anything they ask me to do,” he said. “It helps the team to be able to play linebacker and then jump down to [defensive] end. Obviously if Dont’a [Hightower] isn’t there, then I’m able to step in and Jermaine is able to bump in at [defensive] end. We’re kind of versatile as far as [the] edge. It’s good for us overall for me to be able to jump down to [defensive] end and then have Hightower come in. It just kind of keeps the offense guessing on who’s playing what.”