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Chung refused to get down

He stayed upbeat despite injuries

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / January 31, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - Patrick Chung missed half of the regular season - one game to thumb surgery in September and seven to a foot injury in the latter half of the season.

The Patriots safety refuses to call the time he missed frustrating.

“Not frustrating at all,’’ he said yesterday. “We’re winning. When you’re winning you can’t really be frustrated about much. I’m back now, I’m here with my guys.’’

The Patriots defense has appeared to improve during their two postseason wins, and the return of Chung and Brandon Spikes, both of whom were hurt against the Giants in November and returned in the regular-season finale against the Bills, are believed to be part of the reason.

“I think just getting guys back healthy,’’ linebacker Jerod Mayo said recently when asked why the unit has played better. “Getting Chung back, getting Spikes back, being able to play with the same group of guys for a couple of weeks, which is an extended period of time for this team this year.’’

Though 24, Chung is one of the more experienced members of a Patriots secondary that has seen its share of players rotate in and out this season.

“Pat, he’s a leader out there,’’ cornerback Devin McCourty said. “He’s a guy that’s been playing since he got here and he plays the game with a lot of passion and emotion. He’s a guy who’s always running around full speed, he’s hitting, he’s kind of setting the tone.

“I think what sticks out when he came back that Buffalo game, a guy came across and he came down to hit him on the third down. He’s been out there making plays and that’s what we need.’’

The third-year safety, thought to be the hard-hitting heir apparent to Rodney Harrison when he was drafted 34th overall in 2009 out of Oregon (he was the Patriots’ first pick that year), seemed to be on the cusp of fulfilling that role last season, in which he totaled 89 tackles, had three interceptions - one returned for a touchdown - and nine pass breakups in 14 games.

This season, however, injuries have taken their toll.

Before the right foot injury, Chung had bounced back from hand surgery, which caused him to miss the loss at Buffalo.

Then came Week 9. On the Giants’ winning touchdown drive, Eli Manning found tight end Jake Ballard for a 28-yard gain on third-and-long. Chung appeared to jump for an interception but missed. Ballard made the catch, keeping the drive alive, and was on the receiving end in the end zone four plays later.

Chung tried to play the next week in New York against the Jets. Under the watch of the training and medical staffs, he tried to run and cut and backpedal, but he couldn’t play.

Chung rarely spoke to reporters in the coming weeks, once or twice saying he was getting better. It wasn’t until Week 17 that he was back in uniform.

The fits and starts in his recovery are in the past - he says “God works in mysterious ways’’ when asked about being able to return for the postseason.

If the setbacks bothered him, he refuses to show it.

And although his accomplishments contribute to the success of the team, Chung dismisses personal performances.

“It’s not about my goals, it’s about the team,’’ he said. “It’s about the team and what we’ve accomplished and we’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve worked hard. We’ve struggled through a lot of things, ups and downs, and now we’re here and now it’s time to play some ball. It’s not about any individual.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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