As it turns out, the NFL is more than capable of creating storylines when the New England Patriots aren’t involved in the playoffs.
Yes, the Patriots were bounced in the Wild Card Round, but the NFL has been a content gold mine since their loss to Buffalo.
This past weekend, the Divisional Round produced four walk-off victories, including what many are calling the best game they’ve ever seen between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills on Sunday night.
Those games were enough to consume a week’s worth of conversation, but those discussions were put on hold on Monday after longtime New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton announced he’s stepping away from coaching.
From thanking countless players and co-workers, recalling his fondest moments at the helm and commending fans for their loyalty to the franchise, Payton’s press conference was all over the place.
However, he caught the ear of Patriots fans when he listed one of his biggest regrets from his Saints tenure: cutting Rob Ninkovich in 2009.
The Patriots have Sean Payton to thank for the role Rob Ninkovich played in their dynasty.
Before he became a mainstay on two Super Bowl-winning Patriots defenses, Ninkovich struggled for playing time in New Orleans. He was part of Payton’s first draft class in 2006, but suffered a season-ending knee injury just three games into his rookie season.
In a brutal turn of events for Ninkovich, he suffered another knee injury in training camp the following year and was released. He spent the next two seasons with the Dolphins, appearing in just five games, and was signed by the Saints again. However, he got released before ever playing a snap.
Ever the opportunist, Bill Belichick swooped in and signed Ninkovich. The Purdue product wasn’t an instant success with the Patriots. He spent the 2009 season as a backup learning the ins and outs of Belichick’s system.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Betwen 2010 and 2016, Ninkovich started 101 games for New England as an edge rusher/outside linebacker, accumulating 454 tackles (55 for loss), 46 sacks, 88 QB hits, 12 forced fumbles, five interceptions and 22 passes defended.
After suffering consecutive knee injuries with the Saints, Ninkovich went six seasons in a row without missing a game. It wasn’t until 2016, his last in the NFL, that his injury “concerns” made a return (torn triceps in the preseason).
Payton doesn’t have too many whiffs on his resume. In 16 years as the Saints’ head coach, he amassed a 152-89 record, seven division titles, nine playoff appearances and a Super Bowl in 2009 that really helped the city of New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina.
However, the fact he mentioned Ninkovich by name in his goodbye presser proves he still views him as the one that got away.