WASHINGTON — So much for the Sean McVay Effect.
In a game no one really wanted to see, the NFL’s white knight and offensive wunderkind was, by his own admission, out-coached. Bill Belichick, who has now matched George Halas and Curly Lambeau for the most championships by a head coach, is lifting his sixth Lombardi Trophy in 18 years while McVay is licking his wounds from becoming just the second coach to watch his team fail to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
While Belichick heads the list of men deserving of credit for what is arguably the most impressive of New England’s six titles, the de facto defensive coordinator and play-caller Brian Flores isn’t far behind. He’s bested the NFL’s two best offenses in consecutive games, including a strong gameplan that left the high-flying Rams offense with as many third-down conversions (3) as points.
Flores is now the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins, the only new coach of color in this hiring cycle. His work this year with largely the same roster as his predecessor, now-Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia, is further evidence that more NFL owners should be seeking out men like Flores, rather than shamelessly pursuing coaches who vaguely resemble McVay.
Under Patricia, the Patriots defense got lit up for 538 yards and 41 yards by the Philadelphia Eagles’ backup QB. This year, Flores’ unit limited the Rams to 260 yards and a Super Bowl-record low three points, holding the Rams without a gain on 27 of their 60 offensive plays (45 percent of their snaps). Dominating the line of scrimmage against a historically good offensive line without a Pro Bowler on the D-line is a huge gold star for Flores.
Just look at the damage Flores’ unit did this postseason. The Pats held both the 12-4 Chiefs and 13-3 Rams — the two highest scoring offenses, respectively — scoreless in the first half, below 300 yards for the game, and generated four sacks of their young QBs. In fact, the Patriots are just the third team to shut out their opponent in the first half of the conference championship and the Super Bowl (joining the 1973 Dolphins and 2000 Ravens), and the first team to blank McVay in the first half of a game in his 36-game career.
The Patriots also dominated the ball in their three playoff games, maintaining possession for 115 of 185 minutes — nearly 38 minutes per game. That kind of ball control doesn’t happen without a strong defense, especially when Tom Brady — though he engineered a couple of game-winning drives and played better than the average 41-year-old QB — had just a 85.8 passer rating and 2:3 TD-to-INT ratio in the playoffs.
Of course, Flores’ standout turn in New England doesn’t guarantee he’ll come close to that level of success in Miami. Belichick assistants have generally struggled, and as I pointed out in this space last month, many coaches of color aren’t offered the best jobs or granted much patience — and the Dolphins’ history of dysfunction under owner Stephen Ross doesn’t exactly make them a desirable destination.
But Flores has displayed the leadership and football acumen necessary to succeed as a head coach, and done so in ways that McVay disciples and fellow 2019 hires Zac Taylor, Matt LaFleur and (especially) Kliff Kingsbury have yet to. If Flores turns around the Dolphins in the way McVay has the Rams, and the rest of this copycat league doesn’t fall over itself to hire the next prodigious, black defensive assistant, the point that the NFL has a race problem will be hammered home hard.