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.