The Dolphins’ locker room was mostly quiet as Brian Flores addressed his players around 4:10 p.m. last Sunday. Flores’s first game as an NFL head coach ended with a giant thud — a 59-10 loss to the Ravens.
Don’t forget this moment, Flores told his players.
“He told us, ‘Let it sink in, remember this feeling,’ ” cornerback Eric Rowe said. “I think everybody is going to remember this feeling.”
The result was about as bad as it gets in the NFL, especially for a coaching debut. The 49-point margin of defeat was tied for the fifth-biggest blowout of this century.
Flores’s new-look defense allowed seven touchdowns in the first half. It broke down on three big-play touchdowns. The Dolphins got outgained, 644 yards to 200. They muffed a punt. They allowed a 60-yard fake punt run on fourth and 1. They couldn’t tackle, and they couldn’t stop committing penalties.
All that preparation made over the last six months, all the managing and worrying about the little decisions, it all blew up over the course of three hours.
“Obviously, I didn’t do a good enough job of getting this team prepared to play,” Flores said. “We talked about playing penalty-free. We talked about having a clean operation, alignments, assignments, trying to play turnover-free. And we didn’t accomplish any of that. There’s a lot of self-scout, a lot of reflection.”
The Dolphins already were fighting accusations of tanking, and they had the lowest Super Bowl odds in the NFL. But after Sunday’s loss, at least one website dropped the Dolphins’ Super Bowl odds from 500-1 to 10,000-1. Several players were asking their agents to get them traded out of Miami, per multiple reports.
Flores and his players did their best to remain positive this past week. There were constant reminders that it was only one game out of 16. And constant reminders that the coaches still believed in the players.
“If we tell ourselves this is going to be a bad season, we listen to all of the outside noise and everything else, then that’s what it’s going to be,” said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of the players who has reportedly been given permission to seek a trade. “But if we . . . make a decision to play great every day, that’s what you’re going to do. That’s all we can control.”
Linebacker Sam Eguavoen said the Dolphins were going to watch the game tape on Monday, then burn it.
“We wanted to watch that and feel that — feel that loss and feel that pain that we definitely could have gotten the job done if we would have just executed it,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “It’s as simple as that. It’s not like we don’t have the talent. It’s not like we don’t have any of that. We have everything we need. We just have to execute it. That film was really just the pill of it. You just swallow it and go onto the next week.”
NFL teams often operate with a “24-hour” rule, win or loss. Flores stressed that message when the team left on Monday.
“We’re not going to wallow in yesterday. We’ve got to turn this thing around,” Flores said. “There’s a lot of football left — a lot of opportunity for us to get better, improve, and play the game the way we want to play it. That wasn’t what we had [Sunday]. That’s not how we want to play, ever. That’s the goal right now. There’s a lot of season left. There’s a lot.”
Other players tried to move on by acting like the loss was no big deal.
“It wasn’t anybody’s first loss,” running back Kenyan Drake said. “You have a game that you have to prepare for, so you don’t think about the past. You learn from the mistakes, get better at the things that you did well, and put your head where it needs to be, which is on this next team.”
That next team makes life no easier for the Dolphins. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots are coming to town, ready to unleash their secret weapon, Antonio Brown.
“Yeah, we accept the challenge,” cornerback Xavien Howard said. “It’s a big week for us, I’d say.”
And this is one Patriots team that won’t be taking the Dolphins lightly. The Patriots are well aware that they have lost five of their last six in Miami, including an especially embarrassing loss last season. And the Patriots know they have to be prepared for Flores to cook up a few tricks for them this weekend.
“We’re going to have to go down there and bring our best,” center Ted Karras said. “Coach Flores is obviously a great professional and a guy that’s familiar with this program. I think he’ll have his team ready to go.”
Flores had several problems exposed last week. We’ll find out on Sunday if he discovered any of the solutions.
“You never want the feeling again,” he said. “How do you — or how do we — not allow that to happen again? We go to work, we work hard. We do a better job with all of the fundamentals, the communication, we tackle better, we do a better job in the kicking game. I know no one wants to feel that way.”
MAN OF THE MOMENT
Crunching some Brown numbers
A few Antonio Brown notes:
■ The Patriots didn’t need to get too creative with Brown’s contract. It is almost the same deal they gave Darrelle Revis in 2014.
Revis got a $10 million signing bonus, $1.5 million salary, and $500,000 in per-game roster bonus. His salary cap number was only $7 million because the Patriots tacked on a dummy year — an option year at $20 million that they were never going to trigger. Revis’s contract also had a clause that the Patriots couldn’t use the franchise or transition tag after declining the option.
Brown got a $9 million signing bonus, $1 million salary, $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses, and $4.5 million in incentives. His cap number is only $5.75 million because he also has an option year at $20 million that the Patriots won’t trigger. And Brown also has a clause preventing the Patriots from using the franchise and transition tag.
When Revis joined the Jets in 2015, he still counted for $5 million on the Patriots’ salary cap. Brown will count at least $4.75 million on the Patriots’ cap in 2020, and as much as $9.25 million if he achieves all of his incentives.
■ That $5.75 million cap number is incredible value for Brown, ranking 40th among wide receivers in 2019, per OverTheCap.com. The $17.46 million in cap space the Patriots are using on their six receivers — Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, and Brown — is less than the Chiefs are using on Sammy Watkins ($19.2 million), and close to what the Browns are using on Odell Beckham ($17 million).
■ Here’s what one AFC North pro scout says about Brown:
“Pats are getting a special talent. Obviously haven’t seen him at all in preseason, but based on last year’s tape he is still a legit difference-maker. He plays faster than his 40 time, has very good quickness, agility, balance, and body control, all of which allow him to create separation at all three levels of the field vs. man coverage. And he also has a great feel for space and finding open spots against zone.
“His hands are excellent, and he is willing to play big-boy ball in contested situations. If there’s a slight weakness to his game, it’s his size, and he doesn’t love having to go against physical, press defenders. Those kind of defenders can frustrate him a bit, but really that’s nitpicking.
“He’s only going to make that offense even more dangerous. You truly will have to defend every blade of grass. You have Dorsett with the deep speed. Gordon is best on those underneath routes. And then AB can do it all, but really good at intermediate level.”
Ancient rivals meeting again
And now a few Patriots-Dolphins notes:
■ I have been covering Patriots-Dolphins games since 2007, and we have seen some crazy ones in Miami.
2007 — Tom Brady throws for 354 yards and six touchdowns in a 49-28 win. Randy Moss catches a 50-yard touchdown pass with one hand while being draped by two defenders, one of whom tears his ACL on the play.
2010 — A 41-14 Patriots win on “Monday Night Football” includes three return touchdowns: 103-yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate, 35-yard blocked field goal return by Kyle Arrington, and 51-yard interception return by Patrick Chung.
2011 — Brady throws for 517 yards, Wes Welker catches a 99-yard touchdown pass, Matthew Slater makes his only career reception (a 46-yarder) in a 38-24 Patriots win.
2015 — Patriots run the ball on 16 of their first 19 plays, lose 20-10 in Week 17 to blow their chance of clinching the No. 1 seed.
2018 — “R. Tannehill pass short right to K. Stills to MIA 45 for 14 yards. Lateral to D. Parker to MIA 48 for 3 yards. Lateral to K. Drake for 52 yards, TOUCHDOWN.”
■ Brian Flores had a great anecdote this past week involving Patriots safety Nate Ebner:
“I was in a meeting once and Nate Ebner was the player. He asked me, ‘Hey, Coach’ — and I was a position coach [at the time] — ‘Hey, Coach, when you’re calling plays one day, are you going to call this or that?’ I said, ‘Nah, that’s not in the cards for me.’ This was in 2013 or 2014 or something. And he says to me, ‘I hope my goals for you aren’t bigger than your goals for yourself.’ That was one thing that, as a memory, was something that I’ve thought about and I took that. That night, I thought to myself, ‘You know what? He’s right.’ I kind of took a whole new outlook on things from there.”
■ Meanwhile, was Bill Belichick trolling the Dolphins this past week? He offered up this whopper in his conference call with Miami media: “Certainly the Dolphins have a lot of great players to work with there. Honestly, they have too many that they can’t get them all in the game at the same time.” Miami sports talk radio had a good time with that one all week.
Theory on Newton: He’s not right
Ron Rivera and Cam Newton can say all they want that Newton’s shoulder isn’t limiting him, but Newton clearly isn’t right. He was dreadful on Thursday night against the Buccaneers, completing just 24 of 50 passes and missing badly on wide-open throws.
Through two games Newton’s two greatest strengths have been sapped. He can’t throw the deep ball right now — in Week 1, only one pass went more than 20 yards in the air — and he isn’t running. One of the most prolific running quarterbacks in NFL history, Newton has just five carries for minus-2 yards through two games.
He had three carries for minus-2 yards in the Week 1 loss to the Rams, marking the first time in 131 career games that Newton had a negative rushing day.
He followed it up with two carries for no yards against the Buccaneers, marking only his third zero-yardage day.
And in the surest sign yet that Newton isn’t right, the Panthers didn’t call Newton’s number on fourth and inches with the game on the line in Thursday night’s loss. They instead called a gimmick play with Christian McCaffrey and got stuffed.
Newton’s greatest weapons are his big arm and incredible athleticism and mobility. If Newton is reduced to a short-passing, pocket quarterback, he may not last much longer in the NFL.
Age is just a number
From the NFL’s stats on Week 1 rosters, the Patriots have the oldest roster in the league, averaging 27.23 years old. The average NFL team is 26.0 years old, and the Falcons are second oldest at 26.89.
The average Patriot has 5.3 years of experience, the most in the NFL (league average: 4.09 years). And the Patriots’ 13 players age 30 and over are second most in the NFL (Atlanta, 14).
But while the Patriots are trending older, the rest of the NFL is getting younger. The NFL’s average age has dropped for the fifth straight season, from 26.16 years old in 2014 to 26.00 in 2019.
It may not seem like much, but the 2011 collective bargaining agreement has made younger talent much more cost-effective, and made it tougher for veterans to get to second and third contracts.
The Chiefs gave receiver Tyreek Hill a four-year, $56 million extension, but certainly protected themselves, as you would expect given Hill’s sordid legal history. Hill’s base salaries will be near minimum values — $720,000 this year — and he will receive nearly $53 million in the form of roster bonuses, option bonuses, per-game bonuses, reporting bonuses, and workout bonuses. Hill has to be in good standing with the league, active on game day, and present with the Chiefs on certain dates to achieve his various paydays. And bonus money is much easier than base salary to withhold or recoup in case Hill violates the contract . . . Sunday’s Chiefs-Raiders game will mark the end of an era — the final NFL game played on a baseball diamond. Playing games on mud-caked fields used to be commonplace — and provided for some of the game’s most iconic images — in the pre-2000s when several teams shared stadiums with baseball teams. But the Raiders and Oakland Athletics are the last of the breed, and with the Raiders heading to Las Vegas next fall, this Sunday’s game against the Chiefs will be the last one played on a diamond. Not that the players are sad to see it go. “If anyone wants to know what it feels like to fall on that dirt in Oakland Coliseum: Go outside right now, sprint as fast as you can in the middle of the street, once you get to full speed jump up as high as you can and belly flop on the pavement,” tweeted former running back Justin Forsett . . . Assuming the pointspread closes at 19 points or more, the Patriots will be the second-biggest road favorite of all time this Sunday at Miami. The 49ers were 23-point favorites at Atlanta in 1987, and the Patriots were 18.5-point favorites in Baltimore in 2007. This week’s Patriots are poised to be the largest road favorites since they were 15.5-point favorites over the Buccaneers in 2009 . . . Packers great Paul Hornung’s life came full circle on Thursday when he placed the ceremonial first sports bet at a casino in southern Indiana. Hornung, 83, was suspended for the 1963 season for admitting to betting on games and relaying inside information to gamblers. His pick this time? He bet on the Packers to beat the Vikings on Sunday.