BOSTON (CBS) — Among the crazier coincidences of the two dynastic Patriots runs under Bill Belichick was the commonalities found in the players who wore the jersey number 50.

On the first run of Super Bowls, the jersey was occupied by Mike Vrabel, an outside linebacker who was severely underutilized by the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first four years in the NFL. Belichick identified Vrabel as a player with a lot to offer, and Vrabel played a key role in winning three Super Bowls after signing with New England in 2001.

The second run started with Rob Ninkovich wearing the number 50. Ninkovich was drafted in the fifth round out of Purdue by the Saints in 2006, but he barely played as a rookie and was cut by the Saints a year later. After getting almost no playing time in Miami in the two years that followed, the Saints brought Ninkovich back to New Orelans … to compete for the long snapper job.

Ninkovich didn’t win that competition, and he ended up signing with the Patriots in 2009. The rest is, obviously, history.

Ninkovich established himself as a reliable edge defender in 2009, and he’d end up playing in every single Patriots game from 2010-2015. In all, he spent eight years with the Patriots, recording 46 sacks, 454 tackles, 12 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries, five interceptions, and one defensive touchdown. He won Super Bowls with the Patriots in 2014 and 2016, and he retired after that second championship.

It wasn’t particularly surprising, then, when Sean Payton quickly referenced his management of Ninkovich when asked Tuesday about his biggest regrets during his tenure as head coach of the Saints.

“All right,” Payton said, “my biggest regret first — besides the Ninkovich debacle — would be the double-reverse against Tampa Bay.”

Payton announced Tuesday that he’d be stepping away from his job with the Saints, where he’s been since 2006.

The failed reverse cost the Saints a win in the ’07 season, which they finished 7-9. The Ninkovich “debacle” obviously caused some more long-term regret.

Payton has referenced that regret before …

… but the quickness with which he referenced the “debacle” during his press conference shows the level of pain that the evaluation on Ninkovich has caused.

CBSBoston.com Staff