ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Rob Ninkovich had eight sacks for the Patriots in each of the last two seasons, and 26½ in a four-season stretch from 2010-13. He came into Sunday’s game at Buffalo with only one sack this season, though.
That changed in a hurry. Ninkovich dropped Bills quarterback Kyle Orton three times in the Patriots’ 37-22 win, part of a five-sack day for the victorious visitors.
As he was speaking with the media in front of his locker after the game, Ninkovich was interrupted by fellow defensive end Chandler Jones, who walked by and said, “Three sacks!”
“The quarterback really doesn’t move too much, so I was able to pin the ears back a little bit more and get after him,” Ninkovich said. “I think Orton in the pocket is different than somebody that’s a scrambler. Against a guy that’s going to be more stationary, you have more of an opportunity to work edges more, work counters more, and you know that he’s not really going to go anywhere.
“We did a good job executing and understanding that if we got him off the spot, if we got some pressure on him, that he was going to try to get rid of the ball quickly. He was obviously trying to get the ball downfield, so the coverage did a good job, and I was able to get him a few times.”
Linebacker Deontae Skinner had the first sack of his NFL career, but it was Jones who had the first one of the game, when he hit Orton from behind and forced a fumble, which Jones also recovered. It came just before the two-minute warning near the end of the first half, and led to a Patriots field goal.
For the second week in a row, the Patriots forced three turnovers and didn’t commit any. All three takeaways came in the first half — in addition to Jones’s strip sack, Jamie Collins had an interception and Zach Moore recovered a fumble — and they led to all 13 first-half points.
“That’s always huge in this league. The more turnovers, the better chance of winning the game,” Ninkovich said. “We were able to get the ball out a little bit there, and those turnovers were key.”
Revis’s shadow covers
Sammy Watkins, a rookie receiver for the Bills, said before the game he “found out” Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis would be shadowing him during the game, much like Revis did the week before against Cincinnati’s A.J. Green.
Watkins’s source was correct, because Revis drew the assignment on him and enjoyed the upper hand on the rookie. Orton didn’t even throw a pass intended for Watkins until the third quarter; overall, Revis held Watkins to two catches for 27 yards.
Ever the gentleman, Revis chose not to gloat after the game.
“I tip my hat off to Sammy; I feel like he’s one of the young rising stars in this league. He’s great, man, he’s a great receiver. My game plan was just try to be physical, and whatever weaknesses he showed me on film, try to take advantage of them,” Revis said.
What exactly were those weaknesses?
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “Out of respect to Sammy, I can’t tell you.”
Hightower an inactive
With two players ruled out on Friday and three more downgraded on Saturday, the Patriots needed to add only two more names Sunday to complete their list of seven inactives. It ended up being linebacker Dont’a Hightower and running back James White.
White was a healthy scratch, and sat for the fourth time this season. Hightower injured his knee against the Chiefs on Sept. 29, and has been limited in practice since then. He didn’t play in last week’s game against the Bengals, but was seen working out on the field for the medical staff more than two hours before the game, with coach Bill Belichick coming over near the end to observe. Hightower looked dejected as he left the field, an indication the on-field test didn’t go well and he wouldn’t be able to play.
Hightower and White joined five others who missed the game because of injury: offensive linemen Bryan Stork (head) and Cameron Fleming (finger), defensive backs Brandon Browner (ankle) and Nate Ebner (finger), and defensive lineman Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee).
The Pegulas also own the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, and received a full-page congratulatory ad in Sunday’s Buffalo News from Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, a Buffalo native who still lives nearby. Part of the Jacobs ad read, “Without question, one of the most important moments in Buffalo sports history. You didn’t just buy a team. You gave us hope. You fulfilled a promise. And you guaranteed that Ralph Wilson’s impressive legacy will continue to shine. Thank you, Kim and Terry, for keeping the Bills in Buffalo and bringing a new energy to the city.”
The Pegulas were honored before the game, taking the field to a loud, long standing ovation. “OK, that’s enough. We’ve got a game today,” Terry Pegula told the crowd. “I must say, there aren’t too many times in life when I’m happy being second at anything. But to follow Ralph Wilson, I’ll accept that.”