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Chung went to great pains to return

Safety standing tall following foot injury

Safety Patrick Chung (left) ranked sixth on the Patriots in tackles with 62 despite missing half the regular season. Safety Patrick Chung (left) ranked sixth on the Patriots in tackles with 62 despite missing half the regular season. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / January 20, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - Patrick Chung said he never got down on himself or his situation when a foot injury forced him to miss seven of the Patriots’ last eight games of the regular season.

The safety never questioned if it would derail his season when the days he was inactive turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months.

“You can’t think like that,’’ Chung said yesterday, happy to be healthy enough to make his first appearance in an AFC Championship game, Sunday against the Ravens at Gillette Stadium. “You’ve just got to roll with it and let yourself get healed.’’

Sterling Moore, a rookie free agent out of Southern Methodist, Matthew Slater, the Patriots’ special teams captain, and Sergio Brown, a second-year free agent from Notre Dame, filled the void left by Chung’s absence, to varying degrees of success.

But when Chung returned to start the regular-season finale against Buffalo, his presence was unmistakable.

“It’s huge for us,’’ said cornerback Kyle Arrington. “We’re very confident, all of us, in anyone who is back there. We all feel they’re capable. But with Patrick, we feel he’s a little more experienced. He also brings a great physical edge as well to our secondary. He makes plays and hits that you just thrive on as a defense. It’s paid huge dividends to have him back in the lineup.’’

Chung made his return Jan. 1, but he didn’t seem to suffer from any New Year’s hangover, making seven tackles in his first game since Nov. 6.

“That was weeks and weeks ago,’’ Chung said. “I’m here now with my guys and we’re getting ready to play the Ravens. We’re not worried about Buffalo or any of that stuff. We’re just getting ready to play this game right now.’’

Despite missing eight games, Chung still wound up sixth on the team in tackles with 62, to go with a sack, an interception, and four pass breakups.

“Patrick brings a good level of experience,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “He’s been through a lot in terms of all our calls and adjustments. He and James Ihedigbo work well together.’’

But when cornerback Devin McCourty started working at safety in the Patriots’ sub package, Chung worked with him to help him make a smooth transition.

“Patrick and Devin have done a good job working together,’’ Belichick said. “They’ve done that as safety and corner, but now as two safeties, their communication and adjustments are a little different. That’s worked out well.

“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.’’

Evidently, Chung had enough confidence in himself not to feel threatened by mentoring McCourty.

“Dev is kind of one of those players who can play anywhere,’’ Chung said. “He can play in the slot, he can play outside, he can play free safety, obviously. He’s kind of like James [Ihedigbo], he’s very smart and he knows the game and he knows concepts. He can make plays, he’s a ballhawk.’’

As a player who prides himself on leading by example, Chung said it wasn’t difficult to assert himself as a vocal leader in the secondary.

“I mean, just the safety position, linebackers, you have to be able to communicate,’’ he said. “You can’t do sign language out there. You have to be able to communicate to your guys certain things you see that they don’t see. You have to be loud. It’s loud out there. You have to be loud, use signals, and you have to be on the same page. That’s the main thing for the safeties, make sure everybody is on the same page.’’

There was some concern Chung wouldn’t be on the field last Saturday night for the divisional round matchup against the Broncos when he popped up on the injury report (knee). While it was uncertain when or how Chung was hurt, it didn’t prevent him from starting.

Chung’s knee kept him to limited participation in yesterday’s practice in sweats and shells. But with all that is at stake, it won’t keep him out of the AFC Championship.

“Nothing hurts now,’’ Chung said, smiling. “It’s a one-game season and nothing hurts at all.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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