The situation could be similar to one last season, when top pass rusher Andre Carter went down with a season-ending quad injury in Week 15. Coincidentally, it was Ninkovich who stepped up in Carter’s place, recording three sacks and two forced fumbles over the final two regular-season games and three playoff games. Overall, the Patriots’ defense had 18 sacks over that five-game period, culminating in their appearance in Super Bowl XLVI. If Ninkovich winds up missing the playoffs, as Carter did, the Patriots could be better suited from a depth standpoint to handle the blow. Scott and Francis could be part of the mix, while Jermaine Cunningham, who had a quiet return from a four-game suspension on Sunday, also could factor in.