On Thursday the New England Patriots held their second and final practice of their bye week as they prepare for the divisional playoffs next weekend. Included in the session were players who sat out in the first practice linebacker Dont’a Hightower, quarterback Tom Brady, and most surprisingly defensive end Rob Ninkovich. But Ninkovich’s surprising inclusion is questionable for the Patriots.
During the 2012 season Ninkovich was the team’s leader in sacks and forced fumbles. That makes him the most successful piece of the ninth ranked rushing defense in the league. But during the Patriots final game against the Miami Dolphins, Ninkovich left in the second quarter with a hip injury and didn’t return. At first it was unclear whether or not he would be available next weekend but his participation in practice Thursday indicates he should be.
The Patriots have the weekend off before they reconvene for a full week of practice next week to prepare for a yet undetermined opponent. This bye week was a good chance for the Patriots to get rest for any players that might have been injured late in the season. That includes Ninkovich who the Patriots will need especially if they end up facing Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game.
Ninkovich has been on the Patriots since 2009 so the 28-year old veteran would not have lost much by missing this day of practice. He’s used to the team’s defensive scheme, obviously succeeding in it, and is used to the players around him. That makes his inclusion, which could have risked further injury, a more questionable decision especially considering that this was the final practice of a bye week.
Luckily for the Patriots Ninkovich was able to successfully participate in the light practice without any problems. It’s not the first time head coach Bill Belichick has made a controversial decision as to when to return a previously injured player. Being the sacks and forced fumbles leader on the team makes Ninkovich an invaluable part of the Patriots Super Bowl push. Playing him Thursday seems like an unnecessary risk in reaching that goal.