At one time, just last year even, Patrick Chung was seen as a building block in the Patriots’ secondary. Those opinions quickly shifted this season, as Chung found himself to be the odd man out of the starting lineup at safety and even out of the defensive rotation all together.
While Chung spent five weeks rehabbing from a shoulder injury suffered earlier this season, newcomer Steve Gregory and new safety convert Devin McCourty combined to become a solid pairing at the back of the Patriots’ defense. The duo, along with the addition of cornerback Aqib Talib and the emergence of rookie Alfonzo Dennard, left Chung without a defined role in the Patriots’ defense. He was a man with no purpose or importance on that unit — until Sunday.
With Dennard inactive, Talib ailing with a hip injury and McCourty forced back into duty at corner, Chung embraced the opportunity to return to his starting safety position. He utilized the opportunity to reassert his presence and resurface as a contributing member of the Patriots’ defense.
Chung was able to strengthen that sentiment in Sunday’s win over the Jaguars, coming down with a pair of fourth quarter interceptions to help seal the win. The picks were Chung’s first two this season — also marking his first career two-interception game — and helped reestablish his reputation as a playmaker within the defense.
There was no better time for Chung’s reemergence, either. So many Patriots are ailing and Bill Belichick offered some players extended time to rest ahead of the playoffs, which gave Chung plenty of time to gain back some trust.
Chung’s place within the Patriots’ defense still isn’t fully defined. He has yet to reclaim his starting job. His role and use still lie entirely at Belichick’s behest, and his consistency is still a lingering question.
Chung has no guarantees next week against Miami, nor is he deserving of much more than the reps he’s been playing in his return. He could start and play the entire game next weekend, or he could be used as a reserve and see limited action. Either way, Chung’s late-game heroics in Jacksonville have at least earned himself some place within this Patriots’ defense going forward.
This may not be the same playmaking Chung everyone first fell in love with in Miami two years ago, but he’s at least a shade of that former self and that’s a very good sign for New England.