Foxboro, Mass., was Brian Flores’ home base for the first decade-and-a-half of his professional career. On Sunday, he’ll be back for the first time as a visitor.
The New England Patriots will close out the regular season this weekend by welcoming Flores and the Miami Dolphins to Gillette Stadium.
Flores worked under Patriots coach Bill Belichick in various roles from 2004 through 2018, rising from entry-level scouting assistant to de facto defensive coordinator and earning four Super Bowl rings in the process. Now in his first year in charge in Miami, the 38-year-old maintains relationships with many of New England’s current players and coaches but plans to put those on hold until after the final whistle Sunday.
“Look, I was with Bill for 15 years, so I know him very well and he knows me very well,” Flores said Tuesday in a conference call with New England reporters. “And at the end of the day, I have a lot of respect for him. I learned a lot from him. I’m fortunate to have worked with that organization for a long time. But I know this about him: He’s going to try to beat the heck out of us. And he knows this about me: We’re going to do the same.
“That’s why I was in the (Patriots) building because I’m competitive by nature. I think that’s something I tried to impart on the players that I was around, so I know they’re competitive. I love those guys, and they love me, and I know that. From (Devin) McCourty to (Patrick) Chung to (Kyle) Van Noy to (Elandon) Roberts to (Dont’a) Hightower — I built relationships with these guys that go far beyond football. I know that.
“But on Sunday, we’re going to be competing against each other, and nobody’s going to care about any of that stuff. And I think that’s the same with Bill and that coaching staff and all the guys there — Josh McDaniels, Joe Judge. The friendships go far beyond football. I know that, and I think Bill knows that. But once 1 o’clock on Sunday (comes), they’re going to be on the other side, and we’re competing. We’ll be friends after those three or four hours.”
Flores’ roster and staff both have strong New England influences.
The Dolphins currently have five former Patriots on their 53-man roster (defensive backs Eric Rowe, Jomal Wiltz and Nate Brooks, defensive end Trent Harris and linebacker Calvin Munson) and three more on injured reserve (cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Ryan Lewis and Ken Webster). Brooks and Munson both were claimed off New England’s practice squad within the last two weeks and immediately became defensive starters for Miami.
Flores brought three other Patriots assistants with him to South Florida (Dolphins offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, defensive pass game coordinator/cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski) and hired three more who played or coached under Belichick in the past (defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, O-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and quality control coach Tiquan Underwood).
The 12-3 Patriots steamrolled Flores’ squad 43-0 in Week 2, but the Dolphins — widely expected to be the NFL’s worst team this season — have been feisty of late, with all four of their wins coming in their last eight games. Miami has a chance to play spoiler Sunday, as New England needs a win or a Kansas City Chiefs loss (or a tie by either team) to clinch a first-round playoff bye.
“I don’t really think of it that way,” Flores said. “I love to compete, and I know that’s going to be a great environment. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us and a huge test for us to go into an environment like that against a really good football team and try to compete and try to come out with a win. That’s what competition’s all about.”