By: Chip Turner
In December of 2018, I watched from my seat in Hard Rock Stadium as Adam Gase sat by himself on the Dolphins bench, scrawling on a clipboard. This was just two weeks after the Miami Miracle, and it looked like Adam Gase and his team wanted nothing to do with each other. Not a soul was around him. Not a player, not a coach, not the water boy. Nobody.
On Sunday, after the second cheap shot on PR Jakeem Grant, Brian Flores marched onto the field toward the Bengals sideline, wanting words with someone. The Dolphins team came with him, following behind their leader like a scene from Braveheart. Make no mistake; this is Brian Flores’s team, and he is their leader.
This is night and day from the Jeff Ireland/Dawn Aponte/Joe Philbin “Hard Knocks” days. This is light years from two years ago. The toxic atmosphere that was the Miami Dolphins organization has been cleared with a sweeping culture change, and replaced with a word that hasn’t been associated with the team in some time.
After the smoke cleared from an ugly confrontation, two Dolphins players were ejected, and Jakeem Grant walked up to both DeVante Parker and Mack Hollins and thanked them on the sideline. That’s what this team is about. Look, nobody wants a brawl, but everybody wants to be a part of something where you know people have your back.
Postgame, Flores publicly apologized, correctly stating that he let his emotions get the best of him. He said that he couldn’t let his actions put the team in a bad position, and he’s right. He has to lead by example, and he has to hold himself accountable in order to hold his players accountable.
But nobody is ever going to forget how he charged the field in defense of his player. Not the Bengals, not Dolphins fans, and most importantly, not his team. Brian Flores sent one distinct message to the rest of the NFL yesterday: “Do not mess with the Miami Dolphins.”
The Dolphins won a thoroughly chippy game, 19-7, in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. After the brawl, the Dolphins defense completely shut down the Bengals, knocking QB Brandon Allen out of the game and making backup Ryan Finley look like a wounded extra from Band of Brothers on the sideline.
The Dolphins took another step toward the playoffs, and Tua Tagovailoa showed glimpses of being the QB we all hoped for out of Alabama. Despite red zone woes, he ran the up-tempo offense well, and had his highest passing output thus far in his young career.
It leads one to wonder: What if Flores has known exactly what he’s been doing the entire time? What if he wanted Tua to work through the growing pains of learning Gailey’s offense before he said, “Okay, speed it up. Let’s see what he’s got.”
What if Brian Flores told us all exactly what he was going to do at the end of last season, after the Dolphins marched into Gillette Stadium and beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots. “There’s joy in hard work,” he said, “and this is it, right here. And this is just the beginning. Trust me on that one.”
This is no longer the beginning for Brian Flores’s Miami Dolphins; the rebuild is entering its next phase while the team is exceeding expectations. The roster lacks playmakers at key positions, but Flores’s work ethic is reflected in their play and demeanor; you’re simply not going to out-work them. And while Sunday’s fracas was a loss of control that will undoubtedly draw fines and possible suspensions, something else showed through.
It’s an easy thing for them to say “I’m proud to be a part of this organization,” but what we saw on the field goes far beyond words. As we witness the next phase of this Miami Dolphins rebuild, the players are showing what it’s like to have pride in their hard work together as a team.
And if you doubt them, Brian Flores showed that he’d be perfectly happy to explain it to you personally.
Please welcome Chip Turner to PhinManiacs and please check him out on Twitter @ChipTurnerPA