FOXBOROUGH -- Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who injured his left hip in the season finale against Miami Dec. 30, left no doubt how important it was to him when the Patriots' clinched a first-round bye with their 28-0 shutout of the Dolphins.
Ninkovich, who was spotted during Tuesday's practice moving around without any impediment, responded when approached in the locker room by throwing his hands up in the air and gushing, "Thank God!''
The bye week enabled Ninkovich, along with the rest of his teammates, to rest and recuperate before resuming preparations to host the Houston Texans in an AFC divisional playoff matchup Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
"I think the bye week, obviously, gives you a chance to get some guys back who were banged up a little bit,'' said Ninkovich. "But you also realize that, come game time, we're playing a three-game season and you've got to really come back focused and know that now it's time to work.
"Everything that we've put in, up until now, is what you're working for. I think it was great to not only get the couple days to get healthy, but also to watch those games and see who we were going to play.
"Now it's time to turn the juice on.''