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Two safeties cover ground

Perspectives differ on play of defense

Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown pulls in a reception between Patriots safety Patrick Chung (25) and cornerback Devin McCourty in Sunday’s game. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown pulls in a reception between Patriots safety Patrick Chung (25) and cornerback Devin McCourty in Sunday’s game. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / November 1, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - The two players who started at safety for the Patriots in Pittsburgh Sunday had different assessments of New England’s defensive performance.

Patrick Chung offered a positive review, but James Ihedigbo was harsher.

Players were at Gillette Stadium for workouts, treatment, and film review of the 25-17 loss to the Steelers, in which Ben Roethlisberger completed 72 percent of his passes for 365 yards and the Steelers converted 10 of 16 third-down opportunities.

Chung said the Patriots gave up “just a couple of big plays. I mean, we played good, we executed at times - most times. All it takes is a couple of big plays.’’

Asked if giving up big plays has been a consistent problem this season, Chung said, “Man, that’s any team, any defense. If you’re playing a great game and give up a couple of big plays, that could be the difference in the game. So we need to get better at that.’’

Asked whether he was encouraged by what he saw in game film, Chung answered in the affirmative.

“Definitely encouraged. We played a good game, man. They just played a better one. They made more big plays than we did,’’ he said.

A few minutes later, Ihedigbo gave a very different opinion.

“You watch that film and it’s nothing we want to represent us as a defense in this league or as a team and we watched that and everyone had that look on their face of, ‘Hey, this isn’t us,’ ’’ said Ihedigbo, who was replaced by Sergio Brown in the second half. “What we put on tape isn’t us and we’re going to correct that and come out this next week and show how the New England Patriots play defense.’’

The former UMass standout and Jets special teamer was emphatic that the defense will show improvement Sunday against the Giants.

“I’ve never been around a group of guys that want to win more than the guys in this locker room and winning is everything,’’ Ihedigbo said. “We work too hard during the week and we watch too much tape and we study too much as a group to come up on the short end of a week that we put so much effort into preparation.

“We’re definitely going to have a chip on our shoulder this week and I know our defense, we’re going to be fired up, we’re going to be ready to go. We’re playing back at home, we’re going to study the game plan hard, and we’ll be ready to go on Sunday.

“It was just common knowledge that guys know we expect more of each other and the coaching staff expects more out of us and we didn’t play to their expectations or to our own, so like I said, we’re going to come out this week ready to go. I can guarantee you that.’’

Polamalu play illegal

The fourth-quarter play that gave Pittsburgh a safety and eventual 8-point margin of victory Sunday was illegal.

As Tom Brady surveyed the field in the closing seconds, defensive end Brett Keisel swatted the ball out of Brady’s right hand. In the scrum for possession, safety Troy Polamalu punched the ball forward and through the end zone.

Pittsburgh was awarded 2 points for a safety, but Polamalu’s move was against NFL rules.

The rule book stipulates that “a player may not bat or punch a loose ball into the field of play toward the opponent’s goal line; a loose ball that has touched the ground in any direction, if it is in either end zone; or a backward pass in flight, which can’t be batted forward by an offensive player.’’

The play was not reviewable.

Had the officials made the proper call, the Steelers would have been penalized 10 yards and New England would have kept possession. The Patriots would have had the ball at their 32-yard line, but with just a few seconds remaining.

Faulk kept busy

A day after returning to game action, Kevin Faulk said he was “maybe more sore than normal.’’

The longest-tenured Patriot, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee just over 13 months ago, got the start at running back and had a team-high 11 touches (six carries, five receptions).

Wearing a brace, Faulk took a hit to his right knee late in the game from Polamalu. After a split-second of nervousness, Faulk realized everything was good.

Coach Bill Belichick said Faulk “did all right’’ and expects he’ll be better as he rounds into game shape.

Bodden clears waivers

Cornerback Leigh Bodden, who was released by Patriots Friday, cleared waivers yesterday, meaning he is now a free agent. New England is responsible for paying the rest of his $3.9 million base salary this season, and Bodden also will collect whatever salary he receives from his next team.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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