Chung enjoying playing mentor role

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Chung enjoying playing mentor role

FOXBORO -- Very quickly, Patrick Chung has gone from new guy to elder statesman in the Patriots secondary.

The third year player has seen a lot of imports and exports on the back end of the defense. Out have gone players like James Sanders, Brandon Meriweather, Shawn Springs, Brandon McGowan, Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite.

In have come Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, James Ihedigbo and James Barett.

Now, entering his fourth season, the 24-year-old says he's making a bigger, more commanding role in the secondary.

Asked the one area he's worked on that he feels he's gotten better at, Chung said quickly, "Being a coach on the field. You need to have a coach on the field. They give us the information, we gotta execute it. It's good to have a couple of guys out there on the field that can think like coaches and direct traffic and get everybody on the same page."

There were times over the past few seasons, the secondary was in different libraries, never mind the same page. But as the season wore on and Chung returned from an injury suffered in the regular season game against the Giants, the Patriots defense stiffened some.

The revolving door at the safety spot next to Chung and Devin McCourty's sophomore slump were key factors in the Patriots defensive decline to the 31st ranked pass defense in terms of yards. But Chung, especially by the end of the postseason, played with more confidence and aggressiveness than at any time in his career before that.

He says the camaraderie and willingness to learn are what's helping the secondary look as competent as it has, at least in most of these early training camp practices.

"Guys want to learn," said Chung. "It's all about learning. Everybody wants to learn and get out on the field. It helps. You have a lot more things than you did coming in. But we have other guys with experience I can learn from. Guys like (Steve) Gregory. They're smart and they learn. He comes to me, I go to him. It's a relationship. We're all in the same room and we're like brothers."

Gregory, a free agent signing from San Diego, has six seasons under his belt. But Chung is the more experienced player when it comes to Patriots tenure. They are a sounding board for each other, said Chung - Gregory with advice gleaned from his time in the AFC West, Chung with information about the Patriots' scheme.

He has two first names, I think it's awesome," Chung joked when asked what's been special about Gregory. "He's a smart dude. He's helping me with things. He's in his sixth year in the league, he knows things that I don't."

Throughout Tuesday's practice, the back end of the defense worked on dropping in zone coverage near the goal line. Communication in that quick-developing part of the field is paramount and Chung and Co. were on it.

"You can make it as hard as you want to," said Chung. "If you come in focused and ready to learn, ready to pick up on whatever you gotta pick up on and follow a veteran (you'll be fine). If you follow the lead or take the lead, the sky's the limit."

The Patriots don't need to get to the clouds. Back to ground zero after a tough 2011 would be a start. If Chung can stay healthy - a bugaboo for him the past two seasons, the Patriots should have their heads clear of the sand.

You can build on everything. You can build and get better at everything. Whether it's quick, fast stronger, neater, cleaner. Whatever the case may be you can always get better.

Mayo, Vince, James. Brandon. Everybody has to know what he's doing. It's different coming from a teammate. I'm not trying to be a coach, I'm trying to get guys better.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.