The list of players who have had second chances with the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era is a short one.
The list of Patriots players who have been on the receiving end of high praise from Bill Belichick is also a short one.
Patriots safety Patrick Chung is on both of those lists.
But those characteristics aren’t the only ones that make the 31-year-old defender a rare player. From his off-field friendliness to his on-field versatility, Chung has proven indispensable during this recent run of Super Bowl appearances. It’s a turnaround not lost on Chung.
Photo: courtesy of the New England Patriots / David Silverman
After the Patriots drafted Chung in 2009, he played four seasons with New England before leaving for a three-year deal ($10 million) in Philadelphia. But injuries marred his time there, and he was cut after one season. A few weeks into free agency in 2014, he was still unsigned before inking a one-year deal to return to New England for a reported base salary of $740,000. At the time, many media projections of the Patriots’ 2014 roster didn’t even have Chung making the final 53-man team. He was barely hanging on to his football dream.
“I was just sort of hanging out and working out in Arizona. I got the call and I was like, ‘I got a chance. They brought me back for a reason.’ But still my mindset was that I had to pretty much start over. I never really thought of myself as a lock,” Chung says. “I was pretty much coming out here to see what I could do, just play ball. I kept working and kept being consistent—not getting complacent like my first time here.”
After working hard in training camp, Chung played the first three preseason games in 2014 before sitting out the fourth—a sign he was almost guaranteed a spot on the team. When he finally made the roster, he says he simply put his head down and kept on working.
Patrick Chung on the cover of the Patriots issue.
In the four seasons that have since passed, he’s played in all but one game, starting a majority of them and being a key cog on defense for teams that have appeared in three Super Bowls, winning two of them. He’s also pitched in as a kickoff and punt returner when needed.
“If you can only do one thing and you’re not doing it consistently or you’re not doing it well, then there’s no need for you. And I don’t want to be that guy who’s one-dimensional. I want to be good at everything. A jack-of-all-trades. That way you have more positions you can play, you’re needed in different situations and that definitely makes your chances a lot better.”
His performance since 2014 has led to a series of raises and pre-emptive contract extensions with the Patriots, the latest coming this offseason and reported as an $11.5 million deal that will keep Chung with the Patriots for the next three seasons. Perhaps the best evidence of Chung’s rise came not from salary figures, but rather straight from Belichick in January.
“[Patrick] is a really good football player. He’s one of the best players in the league, one of the best players on our team,” Belichick told reporters at the time. “He does a lot of things very well and has done them that way for a long time. We’re lucky we have him. He’s an outstanding player in all the things that he does. We put a lot on him, and he always comes through.”
Chung, who brushed off those comments at the time, says he’s hoping to live up to them in the coming season: “I took that almost as a push. It pushed me to get a compliment like that from a great coach like that. You don’t want him to feel like he made a mistake saying that. I take that as a challenge to keep doing what I can do. Whatever you need me to do, I’m going to do it. I’m going to work. It’s a great compliment, but it only matters if you continue doing it.”
Photo: courtesy of the New England Patriots / Jim Mahoney
The 2018 season arrives on the heels of a Super Bowl LII loss in which Chung was knocked out of the game with a few minutes remaining and the Patriots in the lead. The injury, a concussion, kept him on the sideline as his former team, the Eagles, scored the game-winning touchdown. Seven months later, Chung says he’s moved on from the game, and is focused on the future. This season promises to be a bit different with longtime defensive coordinator Matt Patricia having departed to be a head coach in Detroit.
“The loss was going to hurt naturally. As far as the injury, I was fine. Losing the game was a pretty sore feeling. It is what it is. The faster you can get rid of it, the better you’re going to be,” Chung says. “I’m trying to pick up on the new defenses we’re doing and just work. When it comes down to it, if you just work and do what you have to do, staying out of trouble, then the odds are going to be in your favor regardless of who the coach is.”
For Chung, staying out of trouble carries over to his off-field life, where he’s often hanging out with his son (soon to be 8 years old), playing basketball, Fortnite or wrestling. Chung’s mother, Sophia George-Chung, is a former reggae singer and his father a reggae producer. The Jamaican-born player, who grew up a big music fan, isn’t exactly forcing his profession on his progeny: “Just keeping it fun, getting football off my mind, so I can go home and just be a dad. Make sure my son appreciates being with his dad all the time.”
But his son isn’t the only person who Chung spends time with away from the field. Teammates—especially rookies—get extra attention from Chung, says fellow safety Nate Ebner. When Ebner first suited up in 2012, Chung took him under his wing, inviting him over to his house to spend time with his family. In the years since Chung returned to New England, the two are often fishing, paintballing or just out socializing.
“To find someone you vibe with—who you could be friends with outside of football—is a rare thing. I’m lucky to have his friendship,” Ebner says, noting how Chung visited him in California while Ebner was training to compete in the Olympics as a rugby player. “If I hang around Pat, I end up doing some things I probably wouldn’t have experienced without him because he always wants to try new things.”
Chung’s been busy this summer, driving the pace car before a NASCAR race in New Hampshire as well as serving as the general manager for a night at Seaport restaurant Ocean Prime. But no matter who he’s interacting with, Chung tries to keep the lessons he learned growing up close to his heart.
“I treat everyone the same. … We have a bunch of moms and dads in here taking care of us. They’re real people. It’s disrespectful to not. They’re helping us. They don’t have to help us, but they’re helping us, picking up after us. It’s a respect thing to treat everyone the same. They’re family, too. They’re coming to work before us to make sure that we’re taken care of, and nobody sees that. I’m always messing around and saying hello to the lunch ladies and the dinner ladies. I was always taught that I’m not better than the next person, and the next person is not better than me.”
That’s something Ebner notes as well: “He’s the type of person I know that if I called him and I needed him, I can count on him. I can’t say that about a ton of people, but I can confidently say that about Pat.”
The two players spend a lot of time together, both going to the same positional meetings for defense and special teams. They’re part of a slightly larger group of safeties—including Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon—that’s stayed the same during this most recent stretch of Super Bowl appearances. Need help matching up with a tight end? A wide receiver? Ask Chung. Need an interception? A fumble recovery? Or even a sack? Chung has produced all three in his second stint in New England, filling defensive gaps all over the field.
“Those guys allow me to work to my strengths, and I allow them to work to their strengths. They teach me things, and I teach them things. We’re constantly working with each other,” Chung says. “If something’s off, we can correct it. I can do that with those guys without saying anything. I just look at them, point and I know what they’re talking about. We just work together. We’re like a string.”
It’s one reason Chung is optimistic as he enters his ninth season with New England, now clocking more years on his second spell than his first. He’s come a long way from working out in Arizona without a team to play for.
“You just come to work, day by day, just win that day and do your thing, then everything will be fine,” he says. “It’s been a blessing.” ◆
Patrick Chung, photographed for the Improper by Kerry Brett at Gillette Stadium; photo assistant: Scott Stunzenas; Grooming: Alicia Dane / Ennis Inc.