Photo: Patrick Chung with his father, Ronald Chung
Chung exited Sunday’s game with a concussion and did not return, Doug Kyed of NESN reports.
Chung finished the game with six tackles. With an entire offseason to recover, the veteran safety will likely be ready well in advance of training camp, barring a setback.
Bill Belichick doesn’t make mistakes. Well, there was that one time he authorized a sideline cameraman to shoot the New York Jets‘ signals, but, hey, no one is perfect, not even coaching icons. But when it comes to actual football, the man is damn near flawless.
Which made it somewhat remarkable when the New England Patriots coach admitted Wednesday he misused Patrick Chung in the safety’s first incarnation with the team, which ended in 2012.
“For a combination of reasons — I’d say a big part of it [being] mistakes that I personally made — it just didn’t work out the way that we had hoped it would,” Belichick said. “But we got it right the second time.”
They sure did.
Even though he’s overshadowed by Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, Chung is one of the most respected players in the Patriots’ locker room. He’s a terrific example of how a player, humbled by failure, can capitalize on a second chance.
Chung 2.0 also is an example of how a coach, already ridiculously successful, can make his team better by admitting a mistake and trying to fix it. It has worked so well that Belichick last week called Chung “one of the best players in the league.”
Not one of the best safeties — one of the best players.
“I appreciate the compliment, but I have to make sure I don’t make him wrong,” said Chung, who could have one of the key matchups in Super Bowl LII — Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.
The Patriots thought enough of Chung to pick him in the second round of the 2009 draft. Deployed mainly as a free safety, he didn’t produce as much as they had hoped, so they let him walk as a free agent. He signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Eagles, reuniting with his coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly.
Chung struggled on the field, never seemed comfortable in the locker room and was cut after only one season. He was a major failure.
“He didn’t like the idea of getting cut,” Patriots safety Duron Harmonsaid. “It’s something he never wanted to go through again. You think you’re going somewhere for three years and, all of a sudden, you don’t have the job you thought you had.”
Fellow safety Devin McCourty said, “I think it turned him into, ‘I have to prove to the world what I can do.’ He definitely came back focused and hungry.”
Chung returned to the Patriots in 2014, motivated to make his second act a success. Teammates say he’s more cerebral and more detailed-oriented than the first time. In the regular season, he was second on the team in tackles (79), adding one interception and two fumble recoveries.
McCourty called Chung one of the best safeties in the league, saying it’s “totally wrong” to call him a product of the Patriots’ system. He listed Chung’s many responsibilities, insisting, “I would argue to name someone in the league who does that better than him.”
The Patriots finally figured out how to use him.
Recognizing Chung was miscast as a free safety, Belichick made him a strong safety, moving McCourty into the free-safety position. That’s what good coaches do; they find ways to use a player’s talent. The only surprise is it took Belichick longer than usual with Chung.
“We’ve been able to utilize him,” Belichick said. “I wish we had been able to do that when we initially got him, but it didn’t work out that way. Like I said, I think we finally got it right.”