FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- This time around, Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich was better at making sure he left the Broncos’ offense with no options.
This time around, Ninkovich was not about to let the Broncos turn the corner or fool the New England defense into a false move that would lead to big runs by quarterback Tim Tebow or running back Willis McGahee.
And as a function of Ninkovich’s familiarity with Denver’s offensive schemes because of the Dec. 18 game against the Broncos in the Mile High City, he played an outstanding game in helping New England’s defense set the tone early in what became a 45-10 romp Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
“It helped a lot playing them,” Ninkovich said of the earlier meeting. “We got to see how they ran their offense, see how they worked their option reads and how to play them.”
“In the first game, they were able to get the ball to the edge for some big runs early. As an outside linebacker, that falls on my shoulders. I took it to heart. You have to set the edge. I wanted to make sure I could do that for everybody tonight,” said the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder, in his sixth NFL season.
And while it was a total team effort by the defense, Ninkovich especially stood out in the first quarter.
On the Broncos’ first possession, with Denver already trailing, 7-0, Ninkovich racked up a strip-sack of Tebow at the Patriots’ 41-yard line. Fellow linebacker Brandon Spikes fell on the fumble, a turnover New England cashed in for a touchdown and a 14-0 advantage.
“It’s good any time you can get a sack, a fumble and a recovery. It helps all the way around,” Ninkovich said. “I’m glad I was able to do that. It helped the momentum of the game and got the defense pumped up, knowing that we could get the offense the ball.”
Throughout the game, Ninkovich did an excellent job of staying home on the Broncos’ option plays, giving Tebow no room to run and rendering the pitch ineffective by maintaining his responsibility.
As an example, Ninkovich read the option perfectly on a first-quarter play, stuffing McGahee for a two-yard loss on the option at the Broncos’ 20-yard line. In the second quarter, Ninkovich’s strong pass rush forced Tebow into a hurried incompletion, and as the Patriots kept expanding their lead, Ninkovich kept working hard, hitting the stat sheet again for a half sack (with Vince Wilfork) in the third quarter.
Ninkovich almost came up with another sack late in the game. Tebow escaped that time, but by then Ninkovich had put his stamp on the game, doing his part in making the Broncos’ offense ineffective.
Patriots defensive back James Ihedigbo was impressed by Ninkovich’s performance.
“He can rush the passer, he can drop back in coverage and he did a good job of spying Tebow on some plays. He did a good job. He’s a phenomenal player,” Ihedigbo said.
Ninkovich said he was happy just to contribute to the win.
“Playing against a guy like Tim Tebow, you have to give him a lot of credit,” Ninkovich said. “You have to prepare for him to run, to run the option, to get out of the pocket and do things on the run. It’s difficult. You have to be disciplined. You have to be prepared.”
Clearly, Ninkovich was prepared and executed his part perfectly as the Patriots moved to within one victory of another Super Bowl appearance.