The 2018 New England Patriots were one of the healthiest teams in the NFL all season long but in the biggest of all games, they lost one of their most important players to injury. After a tackle on only the third play of the third quarter, safety Patrick Chung stayed on the ground with what was later confirmed to be a broken arm. With one of their defensive leaders out, the Patriots’ resolve was tested in a way it had not been all year long.
“It’s tough because Pat is the emotional leader for us, he brings so much toughness to our team, so much grit, so much passion and to see him go out was kind of a blow to us. I think we had to pull ourselves out of a little bit of a fall there,” said special teams ace and fellow team captain Matthew Slater after the game against the Los Angeles Rams — one that saw New England come away with a 13-3 win and sixth championship.
Cornerback Jason McCourty added that losing Chung was not just tough from an emotional perspective but also when it came to the in-game adjustments the injury forced the Patriots to make. “It’s not like he just goes down and it’s next person in,” said the first-year Patriot. “He plays safety, he plays linebacker, he plays the most different positions on our defense. So when he goes down, it’s an adjustment on what guys can do in different roles.”
“He does so many things well and to not have him then first of all that meant Devin had to make some adjustments, Jon Jones had to make some adjustments, Duron... I mean we were spinning the wheel there because you just never lose Pat,” head coach Bill Belichick said about the challenge of replacing Chung. “He does everything: he takes every play in practice, takes every play in the game. So we had to scramble there a little bit.”
The Patriots defense did just that and on the next two plays did not allow the Rams to gain even a single yard, forcing the team to punt for the seventh straight drive. Even without Chung in the lineup, New England continued to make life hard for one of the NFL’s best scoring offenses — and one of the reasons for that was the veteran’s presence on the sideline after he had returned from the locker room.
“I’m not going to stay inside. My brothers are playing, I’ve got to support them,” Chung told NFL Network after the game. His return to at least the bench helped keep the Patriots on course — showing that his impact can be felt beyond the actual field of play. “When he came back out on the field, he made sure everybody was focused, locked in and trying to make the most of the opportunity. His leadership was very important,” said Slater.
“When Pat came out there I think we all were kind of inspired a little bit — ‘we need to get this for Pat’ — because he really deserves to be out there,” added Belichick in his postgame press conference. “He’s such a big part of all this... we wouldn’t be here without Pat Chung, there’s no way. Glad we were able to finish it off because he means so much to our football team both on and off the field.”
For Chung himself, returning to support his teammates was never in question. “This is my family, that’s what I tell them all the time,” said the 31-year old after he won his third Super Bowl with the club on Sunday. “We play like a family, we’re going to lose like a family, we’re going to win like a family. They told me ‘I got you’ and I knew it, I felt it. I had no doubts.”