Patriots

Versatility and can-do attitude make Chung valuable to Patriots

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Versatility and can-do attitude make Chung valuable to Patriots

Sunday night’s game in Denver allowed us to see all the faces of Pat Chung, football-wise. On one snap, he lined up as the nickel cornerback opposite the Broncos’ third wide receiver, Cody Latimer. On the very next play, Chung found himself lined up in the box, essentially playing the role of outside linebacker. Then later on the same drive, the versatile safety was head-up on the tight end, Jeff Heuerman. Welcome to Pat’s world, where life is rarely the same from one play to the next.

“Things just change depending on gameplan or the call,” Chung told me after Wednesday’s practice at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. “I practice that throughout the week so it’s not as big a surprise when it happens in the game. That’s just the normal defense since I’ve been here. I have a good grasp on it. Yes, we still have to learn things if they install something new, but I just absorb it and go from there.”

Chung does it so well though that the coaching staff keeps asking him to do this, that and the other thing week in and week out. When I asked Bill Belichick if anyone on that defense has more responsibilities, the head coach practically gushed about the 30-year old Chung. 

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“More than anybody on defense,” said Belichick. “He does a great job for us. Pat has done that for us the last three years. He plays anywhere from linebacker to safety to corner to safety on the line to safety off the line, as well as in the kicking game. He gives us plays on special teams too.”

What allows Chung, now in his second stint with the Patriots, to wear all these hats and still play at a high level?

“He plays lot of positions. He’s tough. He can cover.,” said Stephon Gilmore. “Anything the coaches ask him to do, he does it well. He’s very scrappy and very tough. You have to respect his game.”

“There’s not too many people that can play strong safety, corner, star, kick return, punt returner, linebacker,” marveled Duron Harmon. “This guy is literally everywhere. It just shows the type of work he puts in during the week to be able to hold that type of accountability for coach to put him all those types of positions.”

“Pat’s in very good condition,” noted Belichick. “He’s an excellent athlete. Good football player, good tackler, plays well in space, he has a good set of skills that translate and transfer to coverage positions, to run-fits in tackling, to space playing in the kicking game. He’s very competitive in all those spots…and he’s smart. He handles a lot of responsibilities for us. We’re very fortunate to have him.”

When apprised of Belichick’s comments, Chung smiled, be it ever so briefly. There’s a bigger picture here, and the safety/linebacker/special teams ace seems to have a good handle on it.

“You just gotta take it a compliment,” Chung said. “If you’re able to do a lot of things and coach has confidence in you that’s something you have to do for yourself so that he keeps his confidence in you, keeps asking you to do it,’ adding “and just trying to keep the job - honestly - to make sure I stay on the team and feed my family.”

The Pats rewarded Chung’s good play with a contract extension last year and then added more financial incentive to that deal this summer, giving the former Oregon star a chance to earn $1.7 million in playing time bonuses, up from $900K when he first signed the deal. Chung has played 83% of the snaps this season, which is reportedly the top tier on that contract. If he keeps playing this way, that’s more money in the bank. Of course, as with any football player, there’s an element of risk, but for Chung - at 215 pounds on a good day - there’s even more with all that he gets asked to do closer to the line of scrimmage. It’s not uncommon to see him have to take on a pulling guard or get put some close to the interior line that he ends up going toe-to-toe with a tackle. That’s a lot of weight and strength to give up. Is there any way to train/prepare for that part of the game?

“You can’t really prepare your body for that,” he chuckled. “It’s just a mental thing. You gotta be tough. Sometimes you gotta hit little guys. Sometimes you gotta hit bigger guys. You put that on film that you’ll hit anyone and I don’t know, I guess it shows you’re tough. Whoever’s there, you have to deal with them on that play. If I can make a play, I do it. If my teammates can make a play, it’s just something I’ve gotta do. You can’t really think about it. If he hits you in the mouth and knocks you down…if he hits you in the mouth and you stand…if you hit them…you see? It’s what it is.”

It’s precisely that kind of can-do attitude and play that has ingratiated Chung to the coaching staff and teammates as well. 

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Ravens stay in playoff picture, down Browns, 27-10

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Ravens stay in playoff picture, down Browns, 27-10

CLEVELAND - When he looked up and saw hundreds of purple-and-black clad Baltimore fans ringing the tunnel entrance, coach John Harbaugh was moved to return the love.

He tossed his baseball cap into the stands and peeled off two sweat shirts that he handed out as souvenirs.

"Well worth it," Harbaugh said of his generosity.

The Ravens didn't give up anything else Sunday.

Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass, ran for a score and beat Cleveland again as Baltimore stayed on track for a spot in the AFC playoffs with a 27-10 win over the Browns, now two losses from becoming the NFL's second 0-16 team.

Flacco scored on a 2-yard run and threw a 33-yard TD pass to tight end Benjamin Watson as the Ravens (8-6), coming off a heartbreaking loss to rival Pittsburgh, took control with two touchdowns in the final 3:01 of the first half.

Baltimore's opportunistic defense also contributed by forcing four more turnovers, with tackle Brandon Williams recovering a fumble and rolling into the end zone for a TD in third quarter to put the Ravens up 24-10.

"We've been doing some good things for a few weeks now and obviously it's getting our confidence rolling," said Flacco, who improved to 17-2 against the Browns. "Guys are starting to get some mojo and really starting to feel it."

The Browns (0-14) went 0-8 at home - 0-7 in Cleveland, 0-1 in London - for the second time and must win at either Chicago or Pittsburgh to avoid joining the 2008 Detroit Lions in the notorious 0-16 club. Last season, the Browns avoided infamy by winning their final home game and finishing 1-15.

Cleveland is 1-29 in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson, who is expected to be back despite his .033 winning percentage. Following the game, Jackson addressed speculation he might be interested in going Cincinnati, where Marvin Lewis is expected to leave at the end of the season.

"I'm not running from this," Jackson said. "I have never gone any place and left it worse than when I found it. I'm not going to run from this. I'm going to be here and I need to get this fixed as fast as I can because I think it is important."

Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer threw two more interceptions, the last into a group of defenders in the fourth quarter.

Harbaugh wasn't concerned about his team overlooking the Browns with so much on the line. Baltimore was coming off a punch-in-the-gut, last-second loss to the Steelers, and while the Ravens weren't at their best, they didn't do anything to help Cleveland's cause.

And as long as they take care of business at home against Indianapolis and Cincinnati in their last two games, the Ravens will return to the postseason after a two-year absence.

With the Ravens leading 17-10, Baltimore's defense put away the Browns.

Kizer was stripped in the end zone on his blindside by Za'Darius Smith and the loose ball was pounced on by Williams, who shimmied his 340-pound frame across the goal line.

"I had to do a little scooch, but it was good," Williams said, adding it was his first TD since high school. "I'm happy they didn't call it back. I would have been upset."

RAVENOUS RAVENS

Baltimore has scored five defensive touchdowns. It's also forced 33 takeaways - nine in two games against Cleveland.

SUNDAY SCHOOL

The Browns have lost 31 consecutive games on Sunday.

QB CLASS

Flacco's .895 winning percentage against the Browns is the third best by an active quarterback against any opponent. Ben Roethlisberger is 21-2 (.913) against Cleveland and Tom Brady is 27-3 (.900) against Buffalo.

PRISTINE PUNTER

Baltimore punter Sam Koch was given a game ball after pinning the Browns deep with perfectly placed kicks. Koch had four punts inside Cleveland's 20-yard line, giving him a league-high 37 this season.

"The dude is amazing," Williams said. "The way he pins them back, it's money every time. I see him in practice every day. It's automatic. We love him for it. The guy's a baller."

HUE'S FUTURE

Lewis' imminent departure in Cincinnati has added a new wrinkle to Cleveland's cloudy coaching situation.

Although owner Jimmy Haslam has said Jackson will return in 2018, new general manager John Dorsey has left open the possibility of a coaching change. Dorsey ripped fired vice president of football operations Sashi Brown earlier this week, but sidestepped a question about Jackson's future.

"I am not coping with this very well," Jackson said. "I haven't for two years. We have to fix this."

INJURIES:

Ravens: Harbaugh said WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) and DT Carl Davis (lower leg) will undergo MRIs on Monday, but he doesn't think either injury is serious. ... S Chuck Clark sustained a head injury in the first quarter but returned after clearing concussion protocol.

Browns: CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee) missed his second straight game. ... DT Danny Shelton sustained a lower right leg injury in the second half but returned.

UP NEXT

Ravens: Host Indianapolis on Sunday.

Browns: Visit Chicago on Sunday.

McCoy breaks 10,000, leads Bills to 24-16 win over Dolphins

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McCoy breaks 10,000, leads Bills to 24-16 win over Dolphins

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - With his personal chase for 10,000 career yards rushing out of the way, LeSean McCoy can turn his focus on reaching an even better destination: the playoffs.

McCoy scored twice and became the 30th player to hit 10,000, while keeping the Buffalo Bills firmly in the AFC playoff picture following a 24-16 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

"I'm happy it's done," McCoy said of his personal accomplishment. "Now I look forward to trying to get in these playoffs. We took care of business today."

Tyrod Taylor showed no signs of a bruised left knee that sidelined him for one game. The quarterback went 17 of 29 for 224 yards passing and a touchdown. He added 42 yards rushing and scored on a 9-yard scamper in a game Buffalo never trailed.

On defense, Buffalo intercepted Jay Cutler to end Miami's first two possessions of the second half. Then, rookie Tre'Davious White sealed the win with an interception with 28 seconds remaining - and a play after Miami punter Matt Haack recovered an onside kick at Miami's 37.

The loss all but mathematically eliminated the Dolphins (6-8) from playoff contention; they ended a seven-year drought last season.

Buffalo improved to 8-6 to match the team's best record through 14 games during the team's 17-year playoff drought - the longest active streak in North America's four major professional sports. The Bills were 8-6 in both 2004 and 2014 but missed the playoffs with 9-7 finishes.

Buffalo 6-2 home record was its best finish at Orchard Park since 1999.

The Bills now hit the road to continue their playoff pursuit in closing the season at New England next week and then at Miami on Dec. 31.

Frustration began to settle in for the Dolphins. They were undone by familiar inconsistencies at quarterback and on defense, while looking nothing like the team that stunned New England 27-20 on Monday night.

"We just made too many mistakes," Ndamukong Suh said of a defense that allowed the Bills to convert 7 of 15 third-down opportunities after limiting its past two opponents to convert 1 of 24.

"A loss is a loss no matter when it is," receiver Jarvis Landry added of an offense that needed five snaps from inside the Bills 5 to finally score its first touchdown on Kenyan Drake's 1-yard run with 7:03 remaining. "Obviously, we knew everything that was at stake and we didn't make it happen."

McCoy opened the scoring with a 4-yard run to cap Buffalo's opening drive. Then, he put Buffalo up 14-6 with a 16-yard catch with 6:05 left in the second quarter on a drive during which McCoy became the 30th player to break the 10,000-yard rushing milestone.

The ninth-year player reached the plateau with a 14-yard burst off right guard . McCoy said he got the wind knocked out of him while being tackled by Kiko Alonso.

After missing just one snap, McCoy returned and scored two plays later.

McCoy finished with 50 yards rushing, upping his career total to 10,011, and had four catches for 46 yards.

Richie Incognito not only enjoyed a front-row seat in watching McCoy burst past him on his way to his 10,000th yard, the veteran right guard was impressed by the resolve the Bills have shown in exceeding low preseason expectations.

"If I would've told you guys we're going to be 6-2 at home back in August, I think you guys would have laughed at us," he said.

"No one's laughing now," Incognito added. "We're cruising, man. All eyes on the prize."

THURMAN ON SHADY

Bills Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas had no difficulty putting McCoy's value to Buffalo into perspective.

"We're not talking about being in the playoff race right now and we're not leading the league the past years," Thomas said. "We're not doing that if we don't have him with the Buffalo Bills."

LAST HURRAH?

Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams wasn't prepared to say if he might have played his final game at New Era Field. The 12-year veteran contemplated retiring after last season and is in the final year of his contract.

Williams did take issue with teammate Adolphus Washington drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for attempting to punch the ball out of Drake's hands while the running back was on the sideline after being stopped at the 1.

"That's dumb football no matter what happened or what that penalty was," Williams said. "I don't care if they talk ugly about your mother. Handle it after the game."

DOLPHINS IN DECEMBER

Miami dropped to 4-9 in games played at Orchard Park, New York, in December or later.

INJURIES

Dolphins: CB T.J. McDonald left in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Bills: CB E.J. Gaines was carted off in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Dolphins: At Kansas City on Dec. 24.

Bills: At New England on Dec. 24.