|Patrick Chung brings a sense of stability back to Patriots secondary||01.19.12 at 7:37 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s no coincidence that since safety Patrick Chung returned to the starting lineup, the Patriots defense has strung together seven of its most consistent quarters of the season.
Chung, who was sidelined for seven games with a foot injury he suffered in a Nov. 6 loss to the Giants, made his way back for the regular-season finale against the Bills on Jan. 1. And since the end of the first quarter of the win over Buffalo through the divisional playoffs last week against Denver, the New England defense has yielded one touchdown and 10 total points. Against the Broncos, the Patriots allowed 252 net yards, their lowest total allowed on the season.
During a year in which New England discarded veteran safeties like Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, when he’s been healthy, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound Chung has been a steady, stabilizing presence in the secondary, providing support for the Patriots’ back line. For the season, the 24-year-old Chung was sixth on the team with 67 tackles (39 solo), to go along with one sack, two quarterback hits, one interception and four passes defensed.
“Patrick brings a good level of experience. He’s been through a lot in terms of all our calls and adjustments,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Patrick is a smart guy. He understands concepts, he’s well prepared and he had a good level of experience. He’s been out there in all situations: first down, second down, third down, fourth down. He takes that experience to all those situations and he’s got good confidence.”
“It means a lot [to get him back],” linebacker Jerod Mayo said of Chung’s return. “We had a lot of different guys back there, and any time you can get consistency anywhere on the defensive side of the football, you’ll have a better defense. So it’s good to get him back, it’s good to get [Brandon] Spikes back and hopefully we continue to improve.”
Chung said his time away from the game was “pretty tough,” but it was made easier by the eight-game winning streak the team ripped off to close out the regular season.
“I have no complaints at all,” Chung said before practice on Thursday. “We’re winning and just have to keep working and whatever obstacles there might be, you have to keep working and try to overcome those.”
When healthy, Chung has been paired at secondary with a variety of different safeties, including Josh Barrett, James Ihedigbo and Devin McCourty, who has rotated between corner and safety over the last two games in an attempt to try an present a different look in the secondary. Chung said that McCourty’s versatility has been a big part in making the transition a relatively smooth one.
“Dev is kind of one of those players that can play anywhere. He can play in the slot, he can play outside, he can play free safety obviously,” Chung said. “He’s kind of like James. He’s very smart, very smart and he knows the game and he knows concepts. He can make plays; he’s a ballhawk.”
Chung’s return, as well as the reintroduction of Spikes into the lineup after a similar absence because of a knee injury, has given Patriots’ fans reason to believe the defense — and the secondary in particular — has started to play its best ball of the year heading into this weekend’s AFC championship game against the Ravens, set for Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
“We haven’t turned the corner yet,” Chung said. “We still have one more game and hopefully another one. We can’t look past this one because it’s the Ravens coming in. It’s a good team — good defense, good offense, good special teams, and we’re in for a battle.”
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