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Patriots’ no-name defense makes a name for itself

Makeshift unit rises to occasion

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich had two interceptions for the Patriots, returning the second 12 yards for a touchdown (and 21-point lead) with 7:45 remaining.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich had two interceptions for the Patriots, returning the second 12 yards for a touchdown (and 21-point lead) with 7:45 remaining.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - There were some defensive players lining up for the Patriots last night the Jets didn’t know.

The no-names were rookies, free agent signees, and practice-squad call-ups, and though they were forced to play a significant amount, the Patriots still walked away with a 37-16 victory at MetLife Stadium.

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The unit’s success was due largely to the veterans. The inconsistent pass rush showed up behind end Andre Carter, who had a franchise-record 4 1/2 sacks, and continued with linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who secured two interceptions, one leading to a touchdown, the other returned for a score.

“It’s definitely frustrating to lose two - plus games back to back,’’ said Carter. “There wasn’t a time where we had to question ourselves, but there was a time where we had to look at ourselves in the mirror as men and as football players and ask, ‘What will be our defining moment?’ ’’

For a defense that was without starting safety Patrick Chung (knee) and played the entire second half without Devin McCourty (shoulder), it found its defining moment.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez only helped the defensive unit’s cause as he made mistake after mistake, helping the Patriots do just enough to frustrate New York’s offense.

The result was impressive considering rookie safety Sterling Moore and rookie linebacker Jeff Tarpinian picked up their first career starts in a critical AFC East matchup. Moore had spent a few weeks on the practice squad, while most of Tarpinian’s snaps had come on special teams.

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But with Chung out and linebacker Brandon Spikes out with a knee injury, the Patriots got creative. Even wide receiver Julian Edelman took a few snaps at corner in the last minutes of the game. For the last three or four weeks, Moore said he has been working at safety and learning three potential positions.

“I prepared all week like I was going to start and to me it’s just another game,’’ said Moore. “I’m just glad the coaches and my teammates had confidence in me.’’

There was a point early in the game when it looked as if Moore was still in the learning phase. He launched into McCourty in the second quarter while trying to tackle Jets receiver Plaxico Burress.

Moore was flagged for unnecessary roughness, but the play also knocked McCourty out of the game with an injured shoulder. He did not return.

“I apologized [to McCourty],’’ Moore said. “That was my fault.’’

Moore said he had worked about three or four weeks at safety. Fellow practice-squad teammate Ross Ventrone also played a few snaps at safety when James Ihedigbo, who began this season as a special-teams contributor, had to leave with an injury.

With all of the new faces logging time for the Patriots, Moore said he understood why someone might refer to them as a bunch of no-names.

“It makes sense but that’s what I’m out there for,’’ Moore said. “I’m out there to make a name for myself.’’

Cornerback Kyle Arrington was in a similar situation last season. He picked up more playing time after beginning the season primarily on special teams. Now he is a starter.

“They stepped up big-time for us and that’s the nature of the game,’’ Arrington said. “People go down and injuries happen but it’s the next man in. We keep it moving from there.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.

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