FOXBORO, Mass. — Patrick Chung has missed just one game since returning to the New England Patriots in 2014. They lost.
It came in Week 16 of the 2015 season, when the Patriots fell to the New York Jets 26-20 as both starting safeties, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, sat with injuries.
It’s not a huge surprise the Patriots struggled without Chung and McCourty. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, in his Thursday news conference before Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game vs. the Houston Texans, went long in explaining the importance of Chung and McCourty. The Patriots used Chung, McCourty and third safety Duron Harmon on nearly every snap in their Week 3 matchup against the Houston Texans.
When Harmon is on the field, Chung plays a number of different roles from linebacker to slot cornerback.
“Without (Chung), then we’re not really — you’d have to do it differently, let’s put it that way,” Belichick said. “So, yeah, those three guys have a lot of — there’s a lot of value to all three of those players, what they do and how they mix together. They’re not all the same, but they do some things that are somewhat interchangeable. They’re smart, they work well together, they have a good chemistry, good system of communication and ability to make adjustments and trade off where they need to trade off and things like that.
“They’re all three valuable, they’re all three critical. Pat has a lot of position flexibility and Devin has a lot of position flexibility in terms of the fact that he’s played corner at a high level. … Pat does a great job in the multiple roles he fills between safety, nickel back, linebacker if you will. There’s a lot.”
Belichick stressed that it’s not just versatility Chung brings but top-notch play at every position he’s slotted into.
“There’s a lot of players that are versatile, but I mean, to be able to do it at the level he’s done it at consistently, we’ve seen a lot of good tight ends,” Belichick explained. “He’s out there against pretty good guys every week, not to mention practice. To be able to play at that level without having to help a guy on every play — yeah. I wouldn’t say the versatility is as big of a deal as the high level of versatility. There’s a lot of guys who can go out there and take up space, but they really can’t perform against that level of competition the way you need it. To make some of the tackles that he’s made, to make some of the tackles Devin’s made against some premier receivers, premier backs in space in 1-on-1 situations, those are — they don’t look like big plays on the stat sheet, but they’re huge plays.”
The Patriots didn’t allow a single tight end gain more than 76 yards in a game and only two went for over 50 yards. They let up just 75 receptions on 114 targets for 725 yards with four touchdowns to tight ends in the regular season. Chung personally let up 40 catches on 61 targets for 430 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while covering running backs, receivers and tight ends.
Texans tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson combined for 115 receptions on 179 targets for 1,094 yards with seven touchdowns this season. Chung will be the first line of defense in stopping them.
Chung might not be viewed as one of the Patriots’ elite players, but losing him would have a monumental trickle-down effect on the Patriots’ defense.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images