When Patrick Chung was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, it was hoped he would be a key building block as the defense underwent a major transition from a veteran core that went to four Super Bowls in the 2000s. It wasn't the most direct route, but Chung fulfilled those hopes, playing in five Super Bowls, winning three more titles and earning a spot among Patriots greats who won multiple championships.
With Chung announcing his retirement last week, it's the perfect time to take a look back at his unique Patriots career and how he overcame the challenges that stunted his early development with the team and cemented his place in team history.
Chung's fit was immediately apparent when the Patriots drafted him. As Rodney Harrison was retiring, Chung seemed the perfect strong safety fit to take over for the edgy Harrison, the long-time tone-setter for the defense. Chung played with a similar chip on his shoulder and love for the game.
Nick Caserio heralded Chung's arrival, telling the Patriots draft party at Gillette Stadium about his experience interviewing Chung during the draft process.
"After 15 minutes, we were ready to run through a wall," said Caserio. "It was like 'sign me up.' … This is one of these guys, the more you're around him, you like what you see."
The Oregon product played all 16 games as a rookie in 2009 and rose to a full-time role in 2010, kicking off his second season with a team-leading 16 combined tackles against the Bengals, which would stand as a career-high for Chung. But it was in Week 4 against the Dolphins that Chung truly had his coming-out party.
With the Patriots coming off a disappointing loss to the Jets, following by a troubling shootout win over the Bills, there were murmurs that New England was finally falling back to the pack in the AFC East. But Chung and the Pats exploded on Monday Night Football, with Chung blocking two kicks that both resulted in touchdowns, along with getting the only pick-six of his career, in a 41-14 blowout of Miami.
Two weeks later, Chung would suffer a knee injury that would force him to miss the first two games of his career. It was the start of some unfortunate injuries that derailed his development during his first stint with New England. Still, Chung continued to grow into a leader in New England.
"Chung is a guy that takes control," second-year cornerback Devin McCourty said early in the 2011 season. "No matter what the situation is, if things are going good or going bad, you're always going to hear Chung. He's always going to be that guy motivating you, making the calls out on the field. Even if you're in the locker room and something happens, Chung is always that guy in the middle trying to get guys doing the right thing. I think that's big for our team."
In 2011, Chung would be held to just eight games due to a broken thumb that required surgery and a foot injury. His absence on the field was felt in every game he missed. He would return for the season-finale and for all three playoff games, including an up-close look at Eli Manning's sideline pass to Mario Manningham in Super Bowl 46 that was a dagger in the Patriots' championship hopes.
2012 wasn't much kinder to Chung, with a shoulder injury costing him four more games, and by early December, it looked like the writing was on the wall for Chung in New England.
"Of Patrick Chung's 16 snaps, 14 come on the final three drives when the outcome was well in hand," wrote ESPN's Mike Reiss after an early-December win over the Texans. "He has really fallen out of favor when all players are healthy, as rookie Tavon Wilson is playing over him in the dime. Chung is essentially a special teamer and depth option at this point, which is a hard fall for the 2009 second-round draft choice who opened the year as a starter."
When Chung signed with Philadelphia the following offseason, it seemed like a disappointing end for a player that seemed by most standards to be an ideal Patriot. Injuries hurt Chung's momentum, but he clearly made a difference when he was on the field and playing to his strengths.
Presenting some of our favorite photos of Patriots safety Patrick Chung, who recently announced his retirement after an 11-year NFL career.
After injuries cost Chung four games in his single season with the Eagles, he was released and many Patriots fans found it surprising to see him return to New England. But this time around the defense was better-suited to Chung's strengths.
"I think our utilization of him has been better," said Bill Belichick regarding how things were different during Chung's second stint in New England. "He's been pretty much the same player but I think we've been able to utilize him better the last three years and he's done a great job embracing the different responsibilities that we've given him, which he has a lot of different things to do on the defense within the game or from game to game."
Upon his return in 2014, it all clicked for Chung in New England. Initially thought to be a special teams reinforcement, Chung quickly reassimilated into the defense, carving out a hydbrid safety/linebacker role that would become a key feature of the Patriots defense. Instead of playing deep safety or coverage from the slot, Chung became a jack of all trades in the middle of the field and a key complement to fellow safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon.
The trio would go on to backstop three titles.
Most compelling was Chung's ability to avoid the injuries that had plagued him early in his career. In his six seasons with the Patriots from 2014-2019, he'd miss just five games total.
Building on his experiences from Super Bowl 46, Chung was a key part of Super Bowl 49, helping make a critical goal-line stop on Marshawn Lynch with Dont'a Hightower one play before Malcolm Butler's interception sealed the New England win. Hightower got plenty of credit for the play, but Chung was just as much involved, somehow tripping up Lynch and setting him up for Hightower to stop the play short of the goal-line.
After winning a championship in his first season back with the Pats, there was no looking back for Chung, who would go on to play in every playoff game the Patriots had the rest of the decade. But in a strange twist, a broken arm in Super Bowl 53 would hold Chung to just 26 snaps, yet the defense was still able to shut down the Rams and secure a third ring for Chung.
It was reminiscent of how Rodney Harrison saw one of his Super Bowl championships with the Patriots unfold. A little over a decade after being brought in as a potential Harrison replacement, the connection from Harrison to Chung had come full circle, with both watching the confetti fall from the sidelines with a sling on.
It's hard to imagine the Patriots winning their last three Super Bowl championships without the leadership, versatility and tone-setting play that Chung brought to the team. He was a vital piece and, in many ways, was one of the original multi-tool defensive backs that now populate the Patriots secondary as part of the latest NFL defensive evolution.
While he likely won't end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Chung's valued place in Patriots history is locked and we could very well see him in one of the Patriots' Hall of Fame red jackets before too long.