FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The theme of the week around the New England Patriots is "turning the page," and the way defensive playcaller Brian Flores addressed players following Sunday's stunning final-play breakdown has served as a catalyst of sorts to do so.
Flores, according to players, stood in front of them and essentially said, "That's on me."
"Flo made no bones about it, he felt like it was on him, but at the end of the day, none of us really care. We weren't like, 'Man, that was on you.' It was more like, 'That's on all of us. Let's move forward,'" safety Devin McCourty said.
And they'll do so together, with the 37-year-old Flores leading the way in his first year in charge of the defense.
"That's when you know they're real," said veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn. "He's done that many times. You can respect that."
"He's an accountable coach," added fourth-year defensive end Trey Flowers. "It's always a next-game mentality; you can't harp on the past or the last game. You move on to the next, and he showed that from the very next meeting after the game, going through the film and what we did wrong, and then, 'Now it's on to Pittsburgh.'"
The day after, Flores also held himself publicly accountable for the final play in Miami, a 69-yard pass-and-lateral that culminated in Kenyan Drake crossing the goal line with no time remaining.
"That's on us as a coaching staff. It happened, we wish it hadn't, we've watched it, we've corrected it as a staff, we've corrected it with the team, and we've got to move on to Pittsburgh," he told reporters. "So if that situation shows up again, I think we'll handle it better."
How the Patriots have handled things in the first year under Flores' direction has been a mixed bag of sorts.
The Patriots rank 12th in the NFL in points allowed (22.5 per game), but defending the run has been a significant struggle at times, with Flores saying it is currently at the top of his priority list after the Dolphins rung up a season-high 189 yards. The lack of resistance from the Patriots' three-safety nickel package against Miami's running game (mostly out of a 3-receiver package) bears watching this week, because that would likely be the personnel group of choice against the Steelers' base offense (three-receiver set). But the Patriots went away from it in the second half against the Dolphins, playing more base defense in an attempt to get a better handle against the run.
But on the positive side of the ledger from the week prior, a creative plan pressured Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins consistently and showed how disruptive the unit can be when it plays to its capabilities. The identity of the Patriots' defense has been the knack for taking away an opponents' strength.
Overall, Flores has stressed a we're-all-in-this-together approach.
"He allows his players, and his coaching staff, to have input. It's not a one-man show from what I've seen," said veteran linebacker Albert McClellan, who joined the Patriots in mid-November after eight seasons with the Ravens.
"He's smart, reserved as far as on the field, unless he has something to say. That's good, because when he says something, you know it means something," Clayborn said.
Flores' résumé and leadership style has already landed him on the head-coaching radar (he interviewed with the Cardinals last offseason), which puts him in a similar situation to Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin when he was hired as head coach in 2007. At the time, Tomlin was 34 and had just one year of experience running a defense. Flores is one of 11 minority coaches who have been recommended by The Fritz Pollard Alliance as head coaching candidates.
Of course, that's one of the furthest things from Flores' mind at this time, especially coming off the regrettable finish in Miami.
That he addressed it bluntly with players was no surprise to many.
"Straight-shooter, a guy that's going to live and die on what we talked about, what we practiced, his methods, and we'll go down like that. It won't change because of this circumstance or that circumstance, and I think as a player you can appreciate that. What you see every day is what you're going to get Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday -- it's all the same," McCourty said.
"He's on us a lot. He feels like we need to be an all-about-business defense, and if he feels like it's slacking, he'll get on us. If he feels like we're having too much fun, he'll get on us. I've enjoyed it. Leadership is something he's meant to do. It's in him, even outside of just X's and O's and football."