Chung thrilled to return to action

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Chung thrilled to return to action

FOXBORO -- The Patriots are very, very happy to have Patrick Chung back.

"It's huge," said Kyle Arrington. "Pat's a physical presence to our secondary. He's a great playmaker so it speaks volumes having him back."

But nobody was as excited as Chung.

Usually a hard-nosed competitor who keeps interviews strictly to business, the safety was enlivened Sunday night. He stood before his locker getting ready, then turned to accept the media huddle with open arms. Chung hasn't seen game action since Week 9 because of the foot injury; answering questions was no inconvenience because it meant he finally got to play.

"It feels good, man," he smiled. "Feels good to be back with my family -- my brothers out there -- just having some fun.

"The first play I was definitely nervous. First play I got a little bug, but after that it kind of went away and the game just comes to you. You just play football."

It didn't look as though he has missed a beat.

Chung got involved immediately with a huge hit on Buffalo's first series. It was the fifth play of the game, on a Bills third-and-6. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick looked short to Stevie Johnson and got the completion, but Chung was right there -- he came flying out and drilled Johnson to hold the gain to five yards. Buffalo was forced to convert on a fourth down.

"It kind of got my body warmed up because I haven't hit anybody in a while," said Chung. "It's just football. I'm glad to be out there, I'm glad to be running out there with my guys."

Fresh legs out there, Pat?

"Six weeks, brother?!" he exclaimed with a derisive twist of the head. "This is fresh legs! That's as fresh as they can come."

He quickly returned to charm.

"But it's not about me, man. We just won. We just took the No. 1 seed so we're good."

Chung circled back several times during the scrum to the idea of "team" -- a common tact for the secondary. They comprise a crew that's guaranteed criticism after every game because of a league-worst defense that's been maddeningly consistent. Chung's absence absolutely contributed; replacing him has been experimental at best. Nate Jones tried by fire just a few days after being brought in, wideout and special teamer Matthew Slater shocked with a few starts at safety, and rookie cornerback Sterling Moore was also forced into service.

Nothing really seemed to work.

But for as much anxiety as Patriots fans have felt to watch this revolving door on defense, Chung has struggled too. He doesn't deny it was difficult to sit handcuffed the sideline. Was he happy New England won seven straight? Of course. He's just happier when forcing incompletions on fourth down. One quarterback hit and seven tackles against the Bills (best of the secondary, tied with Mayo and Anderson among all defenders) show he's already making a difference.

And not a moment too soon.

Crouched and waiting on the other side of the bye week is playoff football. Chung considers himself lucky to have squeaked in some regular season snaps before the postseason. Shutting out Buffalo for three quarters -- against the pressure of being down 21-0 -- is exactly what he needed.

"It's very important. You can't go just straight into the playoffs. You have to have a warm-up game to get your legs right, get your footwork going and get your mind back on football. And then see how it goes from there."

Tough to imagine things won't get better now.

Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

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Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have signed free-agent tight end Rob Housler to a future contract. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound target last played for the Bears but was released at the end of training camp.

Housler won't be eligible to participate with the Patriots during the postseason, but he will be available for the offseason program and training camp leading up to the 2017 campaign. 

Housler taken in the third round by the Cardinals with the 69th overall selection in 2011. In 65 career games, he has 109 catches for 1,166 yards and one touchdown. 

The Patriots may have been intrigued by Housler's skill set last summer when he caught one pass for 52 yards -- making two Patriots defenders miss in the process -- during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots and Bears held joint training camp practices in August that would have given Patriots coaches and scouts a closer look at everything Housler has to offer as a player. 

Housler was one of the better athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011, running a 4.55-second 40-yard dash (fastest among tight ends), posting a 6.9-second three-cone drill, and recording a 37-inch vertical leap.

Bill Belichick and his staff hit big on a future-contract signing two years ago when a running back with a significant injury history was available to scoop up at the behest of then-assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi. Since then, the Patriots still have never lost with Dion Lewis in uniform. 

Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

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Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

FOXBORO -- On a daily basis, Patriots players are in the presence of perhaps the best late-30s player to ever lace up cleats. That's why it's noteworthy when those who inhabit the same locker room as Tom Brady marvel at another player playing at a high level despite being one of the oldest in the league. 

That's exactly the case with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, 38, who is the oldest non-quarterback, non-kicker in the NFL. 

Since the Patriots last saw Harrison, he's become an every-down player for Pittsburgh's improving defense, missing just nine total defensive snaps for the Steelers since Week 14. He's saved his best football for the postseason -- three sacks, two quarterback hits and seven quarterback pressures in the last two weeks, per Pro Football Focus -- and the Patriots have noticed.

Julian Edelman, who wears the same Kent State t-shirt to every Patriots practice, raved about his "fellow Flash."

"He’s an unbelievable stud," Edelman said of Harrison, who went undrafted seven years before Edelman was taken in the seventh round. "The guy has been doing it consistently for a long time.

"I’ve been a huge fan of him before I got in the league, and just to see and kind of have an idea where he came from, it’s unbelievable to show how hard he’s worked to get to where he’s got. He’s a large man that is fast, explosive, and if he’s coming my way, it’s going to be a 'get down.' "

While Edelman will do his best to avoid the 6-foot, 242-pounder, Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett will likely be asked to block Harrison at some point. The Steelers defense will move Harrison to different spots at times, but he does much of his work on the outside where Bennett will be situated. 

"Harrison is playing well," Bennett said. "He’s almost as old as my pops, and he’s still playing like a beast out there."