ATLANTA – For two years, the personnel men and coaches who knew Brian Flores across the NFL kept repeating the praise.
The best New England coach who isn’t named Bill Belichick.
The guy from the Patriots’ coaching tree who will hit it big.
Get to know him. You’ll see why he’s respected.
In a few days, Flores will be named the next coach of the Miami Dolphins. But the Patriots’ linebackers coach and de facto defensive coordinator this season didn’t leave without a memorable parting gift. Specifically, one of the most superbly called defensive plans in Super Bowl history. One that helped New England capture its sixth Lombardi Trophy in a 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams and shut down the league’s most celebrated offensive savant in Rams head coach Sean McVay.
That’s an accomplishment worth added focus. Notably, that this is the same McVay whose offensive-themed stardom essentially shaped an entire offseason coaching hunt in the NFL this postseason. One that ushered in the “McVay Effect,” with teams reaching for the next clone of the Rams head coach – from Kliff Kingsbury with the Arizona Cardinals, to Zac Taylor with the Cincinnati Bengals, to Matt LaFleur with the Green Bay Packers.
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For more than a month, we’ve seen teams reach for a replica off the McVay assembly line. Then came Sunday night, when Flores shut the operation down. A Flores Foil, if you will, laced with a combination of mixed zone and man pass coverages, six-man fronts to stop the run and a series of stunts that had Rams quarterback Jared Goff on his heels all night.
“There’s no other way to say it,” McVay said after the Rams loss. “I got outcoached.”
Dolphins fans – who will be greeting Flores this week – should be giddy. As for Patriots fans, they should be sad to see Flores go so quickly after earning play-calling duties last offseason. And maybe a little curious about what might have happened if Flores had commanded the same role in last season’s Super Bowl loss when former coordinator (and current Detroit Lions head coach) Matt Patricia couldn’t seem to find a single angle to slow down the Philadelphia Eagles.
You could certainly argue this Rams team was a more prolific bunch than the Eagles were last season. Despite boasting the No. 2 offense in the NFL in both yardage and scoring, McVay and the Rams were held to 260 yards and three points. A stunning performance that comes two weeks after the Patriots shut down the league’s No. 1 offense in scoring and yardage – the Kansas City Chiefs – for a pivotal half in the AFC title game, which ultimately helped New England squeak into Sunday’s Super Bowl.
What Flores and the New England defense did to the Rams is the crowning achievement on his Patriots resume. And if you were going to underline the performance in one play, it was a late fourth-quarter interception when Flores called a zero-coverage blitz that panicked Goff into a desperate deep throw off his back foot. The ball was intercepted by cornerback Stephon Gilmore at the New England 4-yard line in a moment that appeared to break L.A. with 4:24 left in the game. New England would respond with a nine-play, 72-yard drive, kicking a decisive field goal and stamping the Patriots with their sixth Super Bowl win.
“I think the biggest thing you saw [from Flores] was Steph’s interception,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “We had talked about it all week – coming out, playing zone [in the secondary], not getting into man-to-man like they expected. Then a big moment in the game, Flo calls an all-out blitz. We talked about it during the week. When it presented itself, we were going to do it. He called it, dudes came flying in and exactly what we thought, Goff tried to just get rid of it and throw it up. Steph squeezed it and made a great play [on the interception].”
It would be a defining moment for Flores. But perhaps most importantly for Miami fans, it should be known as a game he called, not Belichick. Multiple Patriots players said so after the win Sunday night. And if that wasn’t enough, one personnel man very familiar with Flores and the Patriots even took the trouble to text as the game drew to a close: “[Flores] has called this entire game. I promise you.”
If that isn’t enough for Miami fans who are wondering if they’re actually getting the man who was at the defensive controls Sunday, perhaps hearing from Belichick will put some minds at ease. Not only did Belichick assert that Flores called the game, he even called him the “defensive coordinator” at one point in his compliment, a big deal since Flores had never officially been given that coordinator title this past season.
“Brian called a great game, as he has all year,” Belichick said. “He’s done a tremendous job for me. In the time he’s been with our organization, he’s worn I don’t know how many different hats – scouting, quality control, special teams, defense, safeties, linebackers, defensive coordinator. He’s done a lot of things. He’s done them all well. He’s been a great team player. … He’s a tremendous person and a tremendous guy.”
Soon enough, he’ll be across the field in Miami. But not before one last night of memories from a pivotal sixth Super Bowl, and a performance against one of the NFL’s brightest offensive minds that should be remembered as one of the all-time greats.
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