The undersized defensive end got around right tackle Austin Howard and hit Sanchez high while Jermaine Cunningham got him low for a sack, sealing a 29-26 overtime victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.
New England had gone ahead on Stephen Gostkowski's 48-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime. With the Jets trying to drive for at least a tying field goal, the ball came loose from Sanchez's hand, Ninkovich pounced on it and Patriots coach Bill Belichick went out and patted Ninkovich on the helmet.
After a required replay, the ruling was upheld and the Patriots escaped with a win after blowing a 10-point lead in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter.
The day started with all four teams in the AFC East tied at 3-3, but the Patriots (4-3) edged the Jets (3-4) and the Buffalo Bills lost, while the Miami Dolphins were idle.
In overtime, each team gets the ball unless the first team with it scores a touchdown. So the Jets had a chance after the Patriots managed just a field goal. New York moved from its 15 to its 40 before Sanchez lost the ball.
Gostkowski had tied the game with a 43-yard field goal on the last play of regulation.
The Jets rallied from a 23-13 deficit on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Dustin Keller and 43-yard field goals by Nick Folk, his third and fourth of the game, for a 26-23 lead with 1:37 remaining.
But Tom Brady marched the Patriots downfield after starting at his 21-yard line to put Gostkowski in position to force overtime.
Brady completed 26 of 42 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski. Sanchez was 28 for 41 for 328 yards and one touchdown.
The Patriots led 16-10 at halftime, scoring on offence, defence and special teams.
Trailing 7-0 after Shonn Greene's 1-yard touchdown run, the Patriots scored on the next play when Devin McCourty returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown, second in team history only to Ellis Hobbs' 108 yard kickoff return. Both came against the Jets.
Then the offence came through on Brady's 17-yard scoring pass to Gronkowski. And the defence followed with a safety two minutes into the second quarter when Sanchez deliberately kicked a loose ball beyond the back of the end zone. Greene had fumbled it when he was hit by 330-pound tackle Vince Wilfork.
The Jets nearly reached the other end zone midway through the second quarter when Stephen Hill got open in front of the right corner of the end zone, but Sanchez's long pass came up short and rookie Alfonzo Dennard raced back and intercepted the ball at the Patriots 2.
Folk kicked a 54-yard field goal with two seconds left in the first half and a 21-yarder on the first series of the third quarter when the Jets stalled after getting a first down at the Patriots 11.