By Phil Perry
Yesterday it was reported, and then confirmed by our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran, that Patrick Chung won't play on Sunday after undergoing right thumb surgery earlier in the week. Though the Patriots safety was present at the start of Friday's practice, he won't be playing against the Bills in two days.
That leaves Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown -- the next safeties on the Patriots depth chart -- as the two most likely to pick up the slack against Buffalo's spread offense, which ranks at the top of the league in points scored (39.5 points per game).
Brown grabbed his first interception of his career last week against the Chargers, and Barrett has made four tackles in each of the Patriots two games this season. But with Chung out, both will be asked to play a bigger role in the secondary.
"You always want to have the feeling you have something to prove," Barrett said. "This could be one of those occasions where guys are going to have to step up, me included, and prove that we're worthy of a spot on this team."
Chung has 14 tackles and a sack through two games and has been counted on to be a stabilizing force among a position in New England that has seen a lot of turnover lately. All-Pro safety Brandon Meriweather was released during the preseason, as was former starter James Sanders.
Now with Chung out, the Patriots turn to Barrett, who has a cast on his right hand and missed all of last season on injured reserve for the Broncos, and Brown, an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame in just his second season in the league. In terms of name recognition, Brown and Barrett aren't on the same level as the players the Patriots trotted out last season. Still, they believe they're prepared.
"You gotta be ready to play at all times," said Brown. "Every time we get out there and get a chance to play I'm excited. You just gotta pick up whoever is not in. You gotta pick up wherever the last person left off at."
As the longest-tenured safety on the Patriots, Chung was key in getting both Barrett and Brown accustomed to the Patriots system. Now they'll be making calls out on the field without him, coordinating between each other, the linebackers and cornerbacks on where they need to be. It's not clear who will fill into Chung's role specifically, but both Barrett and Brown -- as well as safety James Ihedigbo -- know how to play both safety spots.
"You can't not know both spots," Bill Belichick said. "Their responsibilities on the play are based on the defense we're in. If the formation changes or personnel groups change, they change with it. They have to have their responsibilities whether it's on their side of the field, or the middle of the field, or in combination with the linebackers or with the corners on their side of the field."
As the Patriots' last line of defense, Barrett and Brown will have to adjust on the fly to the formations Buffalo shows. It'll require communication, something they've worked on whenever they can.
"We're pretty comfortable with each other," Brown said. "We go through practice and we have our times when we do great and our times when we don't do great, but that's why we practice. We talk on every play to make sure we have everything straightened out."
Barrett added, "It goes beyond practice. It's in individual times, meetings rooms . . . so when we're on the field, it's seamless, it's smooth, it's quick."
They'll have to exhibit all of those qualities Sunday if they hope to stop one of the best offenses in the NFL without Chung.
Follow Phil Perry on Twitter at @PhilAPerry.