Rob Ninkovich has been one of the most consistently productive playmaking forces on the Patriots defense for the last five-plus seasons.
Over the years he's found a way to impact games with sacks, interceptions, passes defensed, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and just about any avenue open to defenders looking to make life tough on the opposing offense.
He's started every game dating back to the finale of the 2010 season. He's notched exactly eight sacks in each of the last three years. Simply put, No. 50 is always on the field, around the ball and doing his job.
Sunday evening in New York, the New England defensive captain was at it again. The defensive end notched the type of play that may have flown a bit under the radar, but was truly a game-changer in terms of the outcome.
Early in the fourth quarter the Giants held a 23-17 lead in the latest dogfight battle with New England. Things didn't look good for the visitors at MetLife as a Jasper Brinkley strip sack of Tom Brady and subsequent Markus Kuhn recovery gave Eli Manning's offense another possession, taking over at the Patriots 31.
New York was already in field goal range and clearly poised to take a two-score lead.
At least that's how it looked until Ninkovich stepped in. After an initial play was wiped out by offsetting penalties, Manning lined up again at the 31 with two receivers to his right and three to the left, including a tight end. One of the receivers to the right, running back Orleans Darkwa, motioned into the backfield and lined up on Manning's right.
At the snap, Darkwa released into the right flat. Ninkovich, from his left defensive end spot, initially gave a strong power rush into the chest of New York right tackle Marshall Newhouse. With the separation created, Ninkovich then broke to the inside.
Manning retreated, but he could not elude the closing pass rusher, who pulled the quarterback down at the 44-yard line, now out of field goal range for the time being.
Manning's second-down throw fell incomplete and his third-down pass picked up just 2 yards. Stuck at the 42, the Giants had to settle for a punt. Two plays later, Rob Gronkowski broke free for a 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown to give New England the 24-23 lead with 11:33 to play in the game.
"We had a plan going in, knowing that the ball was coming out quickly," Ninkovich described. "I was just bull-rushing a lot, being heavy on the guy and putting some weight on him, and I could see inside and I just took it. It was there, and bang."
In the course of just seven plays the Giants went from potentially taking a two-score lead -- maybe as much as a 30-17 advantage but at the very least a 26-17 cushion – to trailing for the first time since the second quarter.
The teams would go on to trade field goals in the final minutes, with Stephen Gostkowski hitting from 54 yards in closing seconds to ensure that New England went home happy by ending New York's three-game winning streak over the Patriots.
There were big plays all across the field by both teams on the evening. Gronkowski, Malcolm Butler, Gostkowski and others made huge contributions to the winning effort.
But it was the sometimes overlooked Ninkovich who made maybe the biggest play of the game. His sack ended a Giants scoring chance and kept the Patriots very much in striking distance.
"Rob's sack was huge," Bill Belichick said. "They were in field goal range there and that pushed them out. They still had a couple more downs, but we were able to keep them from getting close enough.
It was a big play on a day filled with them.
It was another to add to Ninkovich's impressive resume from years of key contributions.
And it was the perfect play to receive a little extra attention and second look on this Take Two-sday.