Patriots

Chung could be worked into return game

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Chung could be worked into return game

FOXBORO -- Two days of Patriots mini-camp have come and gone and Patrick Chung has a new assignment: Returns on special teams.

How's the Patriots safety liking it?

"It's fun," he grinned. "It's always fun having the ball in your hands. It's good, it's fun."

You can believe him, until someone brings up that ball he caught inside the 5 . . .

"Yeah. I got yelled at for that," Chung shrugged. "But it's part of learning. It's all good."

The concepts aren't new.

Chung was a special-teams ace at Oregon, mostly in coverage but also on returns. His first NCAA career attempt on a punt (his sophomore year, 2006) was brought back 59 yards for a touchdown. By his senior year, Chung was averaging 25.58 yards on 12 kickoff returns.

"I like both," he said of the task. "Punt returns are little harder because of the ball in the wind. It's kind of all the same. Just gotta catch it. Catch and run."

Maybe the Patriots didn't feel it was worth it to put the every-down safety at risk, but Chung said he hasn't done return work since his rookie year. A little digging uncovers the numbers: 7 returns. All in 2009's preseason.

Special teams coach Scott O'Brien said no offense should be taken.

He actually did a pretty good job for us there. I think it was the Washington game in preseason where he had one at the end of the game and he had a nice return that gave us the opportunity to win the game at the end . . . Hes had some issues and that kind of stuff, but weve never forgotten about Patrick.

Help needs to come from somewhere.

O'Brien said, after an underwhelming 2011 in the return game, the Patriots are still "concerned" about improving that particular phase. Hence the audition by Chung (and Stevan Ridley, and Devin McCourty, and Deion Branch, and Donte' Stallworth . . . ).

But there's still time.

Decisions won't be made this week; real evaluation begins during training camp. Chung just knows he has to be ready whether he's called on or not.

"They put you there, you've got to be able to do it."

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

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Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts on the Patriots' 23-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday night.

1) If the Patriots attacked this game believing that the best defense is a good offense . . . they were right. 

They controlled the ball for more than 18 minutes in the first half and ran for 92 yards on 18 carries (a 5.1 yards per attempt average) with four backs sharing the load. Rex Burkhead gave the team a spark with his speed and vision in his first game back since suffering a rib injury in Week 2. The success the Patriots had running the ball had the added benefit of opening up the play-action pass game and it helped protect Tom Brady. After taking two sacks in the first quarter and a monster hit (penalized for roughing the passer) from Adrian Clayborn in the second, Brady was fairly well-protected. 

PATRIOTS 23, FALCONS 3

2) Tom Brady lamented the fact that he hadn't been more accurate in the red zone of late, but he was better in that area to help the Patriots pad their early lead. 

The Patriots went 2-for-3 in the red zone through the first half, with Brady hitting on touchdown passes to Brandin Cooks (which looked more like an end-around hand-off) and James White. Brady still had moments of inaccuracy. The pass he lofted before being croaked by Clayborn was a bad one that was intercepted. (The pick was wiped after the penalty was enforced.) He threw behind Chris Hogan on multiple occasions. He also had an odd throw float well out of bounds that was intended for Rob Gronkowski. But for the most part he was on point, completing 21 of his first 29 throws for 241 yards. 

3) The Patriots defense showed up in critical moments time and time again in this one. 

They stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down, and they allowed Matt Ryan and his offense to convert on just two of their first nine third-down plays. The Falcons coaching staff deserves plenty of criticism for going for it when they did, but with a banged-up secondary, going against the reigning MVP and one of the best receivers in the league, the Patriots responded.

4) Bill Belichick's run defense was particularly impressive in the first half on Sunday night, helping keep the Falcons from getting anything going until it was too late. 

They allowed just 30 yards on nine attempts in the first two quarters (a 3.3 yards per attempt average), with Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise all making impressive stops at, near or behind the line of scrimmage. 

5) The Patriots suffered a handful of injuries to key players that will be worth keeping an eye on moving forward. 

Malcom Brown left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Their top defensive tackle this season, Brown's absence may be one reason for why the Falcons were able to pump up their rushing yardage to triple digits by midway through the fourth quarter. Dont'a Hightower also left the game and was announced as questionable to return with a shoulder injury. Hightower has had a history of shoulder issues and so perhaps this is an older injury that was re-aggravated. Chris Hogan also left the game briefly and was evaluated for a concussion, according to NBC's television broadcast. He later returned.

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