Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/20/14
Devin McCourty's fumble nearly lost the game for the Patriots on Sunday night, but it was Rob Ninkovich's fumble that instead secured it as a win. After the Patriots kicked a go-ahead field goal at the start of overtime, a battered and bruised Patriots defense took the field to try and close out the victory. The defense answered the call, but it was Ninkovich who ultimately sealed things up. A few plays after stuffing running back Joe McKnight for a two-yard loss, Ninkovich stepped up and made the biggest play of the day for New England. With the Jets driving into Patriots territory, looking for the game-winner in overtime, the defensive pressure was able to force quarterback Mark Sanchez out of the pocket.  That's when Ninkovich and fellow defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham brought the heat, combining on a strip-sack that would see the ball tumble back to the New York 25-yard line before Ninkovich finally jumped on the opportunity -- literally. "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," Ninkovich said after the game. "I saw Jermaine on his legs trying to get [Sanchez] down and he tried to throw it, so I just got the ball, knocked him down and picked up the ball.” His 1 1/2 sacks on Sunday now gives him four on the season. That key forced fumble also marks his fourth this year, leaving him one shy of the five Mike Vrabel forced in 2007 -- the most by any Patriots player in more than 20 years. Ninkovich has a propensity for making big plays just as he did against the Jets. That sort of clutch play has him looking more and more like the opportunist the Patriots' defense desperately needs, at least until they solve their secondary issues. Bill Belichick is well aware of Ninkovich's contribution and how important his play has been, especially in such a big game. "Rob does a good job for us. He made a big play on the running play there, came inside and made the hit in the overtime series and obviously the strip," Belichick said. "He's around the ball and always seems to play well against the Jets. He's got a lot of big plays against those guys." Ninkovich had a pair of interceptions during the Patriots' 37-16 win over the Jets last November, even returning one for a touchdown to close out that game as well. This year's big play may have been just a bit more dramatic, but he's not concerned with which one means more as long as he's able to produce in those big moments. "Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games," Ninkovich said after the win. "So I'm just trying to do that." A big play it was. The forced fumble not only finished off a much-needed win for the Patriots but it also propelled them into first place in the AFC East, a position they intend to stay. And Ninkovich's teammates know how important his play will be to achieving that goal. "In my three years here, he's made big plays in almost every game we've been in. And he's been a big reason why we've won them," McCourty said. "I think whether it's intercepting a pass and returning it for a touchdown, sack-fumble. He just shows how versatile he is at making plays." McCourty's versatility also played a big role in the Patriots win on Sunday. But Ninkovich's flexibility in playing both linebacker and defensive end on the Patriots' defense has been key throughout this season, and it will undoubtedly continue to be important. The strip-sack was just one of the many clutch plays Ninkovich has already made for the Patriots through seven games. Just as he characterized in the locker room after the game, Ninkovich prides himself on making big plays in big situations. And he continues proving that his penchant for heroics is more than just a coincidence. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Three quarterbacks who could be traded this offseason

Wolves trade Corey Brewer to the Rockets

Yankees trade Prado to Marlins for Eovaldi in 5-player deal

Brandon Browner fined $8K for throwing Brandon Gibson to turf

Report: Sharper, NFLers called spiked drinks 'horny juice'

Rex Ryan: My wife could coach Tom Brady

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Jim Harbaugh won in laser tag by 'hunting' 10-year-old kid

Eddie Lacy is ‘very blind,’ refuses to wear goggles

Michael Phelps pleads guilty to DUI, gets probation

NFL scouts not in love with Amari Cooper?

Report: No teams interested in trading for Lance Stephenson

It is not Chip Kelly's fault if Eagles miss playoffs

Video: LeBron takes pass to the face from Dion Waiters

New video of Ray Rice incident emerges

President Obama calls James Franco “James Flacco”

Game of the week: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys

NBA games of the weekend: Rondo's Dallas debut, Bulls-Grizz

Tuscaloosa students will have two days off if Bama plays in National Championship

Brady scares the **** out of his teammates celebrating

Longhorn Network’s yule log? Five hours of BEVO

Will a Chiefs WR finally catch a TD in Week 16?

Jon Lester and the Cubs

The Toronto Raptors reveal their new logo

Things Johnny Manziel, Browns can do to avoid a bad repeat

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Three quarterbacks who could be traded this offseason

Jon Lester and the Cubs

Report: NFL players used 'horny juice'

Top 10 worst NBA related commercials of all-time

Game of the week: Colts vs. Cowboys

Phelps gets probation for DUI

NFL coaches on hot seat in Week 16

The Roy Williams-Terrell Owens horse collar turns 10

Most underpaid NFL players in 2014

Gronk jokes about Brady compliment

In Matt Kemp, did the Dodgers find a pigeon in Padres?

Why the Saints are legit playoff threat

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.