You could say the AFC Divisional round game between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans came down to one play.
With 4:20 left in the 3rd quarter, the Texans were going on a dangerous looking drive. The score was 24-13 to New England, and a touchdown would have made things very interesting heading into the 4th. Then, up pops Rob Ninkovich.
The defense throws Matt Schaub different looks, eventually sends two men to blitz Schaub's blind side. Ninkovich moves from that side to the middle, fakes the blitz and drops into coverage. Schaub got confused, throws to a man that would've been free, and Ninko makes a great catch, and stops the drive dead. Tom Brady does his thing, and bang. Instead of potentially being 24-20, it's 31-13, and it's game.
This has definitely been Ninkovich's niche in the Patriots defense. He's been a playmaker, so much so that Bill Belichick called him the "Jet Killer" after causing and recovering the winning fumble in an overtime win over the New York Jets. He's been a revelation this year, but the question is, has he been the MVP of the defense?
Well, he's made plays. 5 forced fumbles, including two in the crucial game against the Denver Broncos. He's also had consistency, with sack contributions in 9 of his 16 starts. And, as I said before, he just has the uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time. He has thrived opposite Chandler Jones at DE, but he has also shown some crucial flexibility for the defense, slotting in at linebacker when injury hit rookie LB Dont'a Hightower.
However, my defensive MVP would have to be Vince Wilfork. This man is just a beast. Is there any other way to describe him. He's one of 2 Patriots who were on the team which won the Super Bowl in 2004 (No points for guessing the other), and his consistency throughout the years is astonishing. He's the lone All-Pro player on the Patriots, and he's part of the reason the Patriots have been better on defense this year.
Reading the Texans fans thoughts, one message was clear, which I'll sum up with one quote:
"Why do you keep running at wilfork??!?!?!?!?!?!?!"
Add to that his 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 6 pass defensed, and you can see why Big Vince is my defensive MVP.
In fact, I would have Ninko third. My might be under-rating Rob, but I think the way Jerod Mayo has stepped up as a leader puts him at number two. He led the Patriots with 147 tackles, including 3 sacks. He has an interception and 4 forced fumbles as well. But it's not about the stats. He's added a maturity to the Pats defense, and has allowed the likes of Hightower and Brandon Spikes to do their thing. Just like Wilfork, Mayo has been a rock, and will be a key feature on this young and hungry front seven. This year has been has seen the defense and Mayo make vast improvements. I look forward to their development over the next few years.
What do you think? Comment below, or hit me up on Twitter @BrendanAnnely