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Pats DE Ninkovich has nose for finding the ball

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Pats DE Ninkovich has nose for finding the ball

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Rob Ninkovich has a knack for forcing fumbles. He's also pretty good at recovering them.

He even does both on the same play.

``That's hustle,'' Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty said. ``Rob's a guy whose engine's always going.''

It was really revving last Sunday when the defensive end dropped into the middle of the field late in the third quarter and intercepted a pass by Houston's Matt Schaub in New England's 41-28 divisional playoff win over the Texans.

And when the Texans tried an onside kick with 5:11 left in the fourth, Ninkovich pounced on it.

``I wanted to get the ball,'' he said, ``that's for sure.''

He always does - and is prepared to grab some more fumbles Sunday when the Patriots (13-4) face the Baltimore Ravens (12-6) in the AFC championship game.

``As a defensive player, you're always thinking the ball is a key,'' Ninkovich said. ``You're looking at the ball on the snap. You're trying to find the ball in pursuit. And when people are around the ball making plays, you're always aware of where it's at.

``If it's fumbled or if it's on the ground, you've got to get on it. Let everyone else decide what's going on, as long as you get the ball it'll all work itself out.''

His nine recoveries of opponents' fumbles over the past three seasons are the most by any defensive player during those years, according to Elias Sports Bureau. This season, he was tied for second in the league with four recoveries and forced five fumbles.

Ninkovich even got one of each on the same play, the one that ended the Patriots 29-26 overtime win over the New York Jets in the seventh game of the season.

Stephen Gostkowski had kicked the go-ahead field goal for New England, but New York still had a chance to tie or win. The Jets had the ball at their 40-yard line when Ninkovich beat right tackle Austin Howard and hit Mark Sanchez high while Jermaine Cunningham got him low for a sack. The ball came loose and Ninkovich pounced on it.

Game over.

``He's always been like that,'' said Tony Samuel, a former assistant at Purdue who coached Ninkovich as a senior with the Boilermakers. He is now coach at Southeast Missouri State. ``He's got that uncanny vision. He's got that way of just being Johnny-On-The-Spot, doesn't he?''

He sure does.

Ninkovich was in the right spot when the Patriots signed him as a free agent. Until then he had played in just eight games in three seasons with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. Injuries slowed him after the Saints drafted him in the fifth round in 2006, but he's been healthy with the Patriots.

And coach Bill Belichick found a way to use his talents.

``He has good body control, good balance, good hand-eye coordination, all those things, in addition to being a strong guy that's fast and has good quickness,'' Belichick said. ``If he has to drop into coverage as a defensive end, he can fall back on some of the things he's learned as a linebacker.''

Ninkovich played in 15 games with the Patriots in 2009, making 10 tackles on defense and 11 on special teams. He started 10 games as an outside linebacker in 2010, then started all 16 in 2011. This season he shifted to defensive end, starting every game. He led the team with eight sacks and was sixth with 61 tackles.

``He's solid,'' Ravens center Matt Birk said. ``He plays hard, like they all do on that defense. But he plays the run, rushes the passer and also drops into coverage. He's one of those hybrid, very versatile guys. He kind of does whatever they ask him to do. That makes him very valuable. Just a heck of a player.''

Samuel realized that during the year he coached defensive ends at Purdue in 2005. Ninkovich had eight sacks, intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles and recovered one.

``It doesn't always have to be a fumble, but he usually has some difference-making kind of play,'' Samuel said. ``He's just able to do it all. He's a great pass rusher. He's got real good moves.''

He called Ninkovich ``a tweener,'' bigger than typical outside linebackers and smaller than dominating defensive ends. At 6-feet-2, 250 pounds, he's aware of that.

``Any time you're not 6-6 (and overpowering) you have to do your very best to have great technique and outwork people,'' he said. ``So I pride myself on having good hands, good vision, knowing where the ball is, and that comes with just years of experience.''

Ninkovich isn't physically imposing. He's not a showman on the field. And he's soft-spoken.

``I think people kind of overlook his ability,'' McCourty said. ``He makes a lot of plays and those turnovers are always key.''

One reason he makes them? He's always alert, safety Steve Gregory said.

``He has good football instincts,'' Gregory said. ``He has a knack for the football. Those are some things that sometimes you can't teach. He takes pride in doing that and he does it well.''

Ninkovich has been compared to another Patriots outside linebacker who wore No. 50.

Mike Vrabel had no starts in four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, then started 12 games in 2001, the first of his eight seasons with New England. He is now an assistant coach at Ohio State, his alma mater.

``I've never met him,'' Ninkovich said. ``Obviously, being here the last four years you definitely hear stories about how great he was, how smart he was. ... I'm still trying to fill the shoes that he left. They're pretty big.''

Ninkovich did catch two passes, both for touchdowns, as a tight end at Purdue. Vrabel had eight receptions, all for touchdowns, playing tight end with the Patriots. But Ninkovich doesn't expect to be sharing time at that position with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, once he recovers from the broken left arm that landed him on injured reserve Thursday.

``I think we have a few good tight ends here,'' Ninkovich said. ``So I'll stick to what I'm doing.''

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AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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Ravens vs. Jaguars in London: Date, time, TV channel, how to watch, online stream

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Ravens vs. Jaguars in London: Date, time, TV channel, how to watch, online stream

The Ravens are looking to go 3-0 this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The only minor difference in this game than from most, they'll be playing 3,628 miles away in London, England.

MORE RAVENS: RAY LEWIS NOMINATED FOR 2018 PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME CLASS

The Jaguars are coming off a 37-16 loss at home against the Tennessee Titans. In Week 1 however, they defeated the Houston Texans 29-7.

Quarterback Blake Bortles completed 20 of 34 passes in Sunday's game for 211 yards and a touchdown. Bortles also threw two interceptions.

The Ravens are 2-0 after shutting out the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 and dominating the Cleveland Browns 24-10 at home in Week 2.

One major blow the Ravens took in Sunday's game against the Browns was losing Pro-Bowl guard Marshall Yanda to a season-ending ankle injury.

RELATED: RAY LEWIS CLAIMS RAVENS DIDN'T SIGN KAEPERNICK AFTER GIRLFRIEND'S TWEET

To make up for a major loss on offense, the defense will continue to have to prove they are a powerhouse figure in the league.

In the Ravens' first two regular season games, the defense has had eight interceptions and two forced fumbles.

And as far as quarterback Joe Flacco, who was absent from the preseason with a back injury, he's thrown for 338 yards and three touchdowns.

There will be no sleeping in on Sunday morning with kick off at 9:30 a.m. ET. CSN has all the info you need to watch the guys in the U.K..

Week 3 Ravens vs. Jaguars in London game info:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

What: Week 3 NFL's International Series 

When: 9:30 a.m.. ET, Sunday Sept. 24, 2017

Where: Wembley Stadium, London, England

TV Channel: CBS

Live Stream: Yahoo, NFL Game Pass, NFL Mobile, Baltimore Ravens website

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 

Point Spread: Baltimore, -4

Over/Under: 40.5

Weather: 69 degrees, mostly cloudy with a 10% chance of precipitation

BALTIMORE RAVENS 2017 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1 (Sun, Sept. 10): at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W)

Week 2 (Sun, Sept. 17): vs. Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m. (W)

Week 3 (Sun, Sept. 24): at Jacksonville Jaguars in London, 9:30 a.m.

Week 4 (Sun, Oct. 1): vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 5 (Sun, Oct. 8): at Oakland Raiders, 4:05 p.m.

Week 6 (Sun, Oct. 15): vs Chicago Bears, 1:00 p.m.

Week 7 (Sun, Oct. 22): at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m.

Week 8 (Thur, Oct. 26): vs. Miami Dolphins, 8:25 p.m.

Week 9 (Sun, Nov. 5): at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10 (Sun, Nov. 12): BYE week

Week 11 (Sun, Nov. 19): at Green Bay Packers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12 (Mon, Nov. 27): vs. Houston Texans, 8:30 p.m.

Week 13 (Sun, Dec. 3): vs. Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: (Sun, Dec. 10): at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30 p.m.

Week 15: (Sun, Dec. 17): at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: (Sat, Dec. 23): vs Indianapolis Colts, 4:30 p.m.

Week 17: (Sun, Dec. 31): vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

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Baltimore Ravens defense forces five turnovers in 24-10 win over Cleveland Browns

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USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Ravens defense forces five turnovers in 24-10 win over Cleveland Browns

BALTIMORE -- The Ravens are making a habit of converting turnovers into victories.

Baltimore relentlessly harassed two Cleveland quarterbacks, Joe Flacco ramped up his production with a pair of touchdown passes and the Ravens breezed past the Browns 24-10 on Sunday.

Building on their season-opening shutout at Cincinnati, the Ravens picked off four passes and forced a fumble -- giving them 10 takeaways in two games.

RELATED: RAY LEWIS NOMINATED FOR 2018 PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME CLASS

The victory carried a stiff price: Six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda fractured his left ankle and will be lost for the season.

"Unfortunately, it's bad news," coach John Harbaugh said. "We'll have to bounce back from it, and we'll have to handle it."

Most of the defense's damage came against Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who left with a migraine headache in the second quarter after four ineffective series: a three-and-out, a lost fumble, an interception and a punt.

The former Notre Dame starter was replaced by second-year pro Kevin Hogan, who would become the third quarterback in two games to be intercepted by the Baltimore defense.

Kizer said the headaches are hereditary, and that he hasn't had one crop up in a game since high school. He received medication, underwent concussion protocol, and finally received clearance to return in the third quarter with Baltimore up 21-10.

On his second series back, Kizer moved the Browns to the Baltimore 7 before being picked off in the end zone by Lardarius Webb.

Brandon Carr's interception with 6:09 remaining all but sealed the victory.

Coming off a solid performance in his debut against Pittsburgh, Kizer went 15 for 31 for 182 yards with three interceptions and a lost fumble.

MORE RAVENS: FOUR FORMER RAVENS HITTING BROADCAST BOOTH IN 2017

Hogan completed five of 11 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

"The turnovers will always stick out because it stops you from scoring points or leads to points for the other team," coach Hue Jackson said.

Both were outdone by Flacco, playing his second game since returning from a sore back that kept him sidelined the entire preseason. After going 9 for 17 in a keep-it-simple outing against the Bengals, Flacco went 25 for 34 for 217 yards in the encore.

"Get a lead and get pressure on the (other) quarterback is a good winning recipe," Flacco said. "Putting guys in that situation the last two weeks has been big for us."

As he matures, Kizer ultimately will come to understand the problem of holding the ball too long in the pocket -- a mistake that put the Browns in an early hole.

On Cleveland's second series, Kizer was looking for a receiver when sacked by Terrell Suggs. The rookie fumbled, Baltimore recovered, and minutes later Terrance West scored on a 4-yard run.

Kizer's next turnover wasn't entirely his fault: With the Browns at the Baltimore 26, his pass glanced off the hands of running back Duke Johnson into the arms of safely Eric Weddle.

Baltimore went up 14-0 in the second quarter when Flacco completed two straight passes totaling 43 yards to tight end Benjamin Watson before Javorius Allen caught a 9-yard TD throw.

Hogan entered and promptly took the Browns on an 83-yard drive that ended with his first career touchdown pass, to David Njoku.

But Flacco countered with a 2-yard TD pass to Jeremy Maclin on the final play of the half, and that was enough to hand Cleveland its 14th consecutive road defeat.