Miami Coach Brian Flores hugs New England Coach Bill Belichick after a 43-0 New England win on Sept. 15 2019. But Miami won the regular-season finale – as 17-point underdogs – and denied the Patriots a first-round bye in the playoffs. The teams open the 2020 season on Sunday. David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS

 

Every Wednesday morning during the regular season, the Patriots gather inside a large, windowless room with auditorium-style seating.

Bill Belichick runs these meetings from the front, facing all of his coaches and players. These meetings are part history lessons, background checks and scouting reports. While they occasionally cover other topics, their primary objective is this:

For everyone to understand, at a deep, elemental level, exactly who their next opponent is.

How their players play, what their coaches believe, why they believe it, where they came from and what that team will do next. This week, Belichick presented on the Dolphins and head coach Brian Flores, a disciple of his.

Belichick has broken down Flores and the Dolphins three times now; ahead of Sunday’s season opener and before both a blowout win and crushing loss. The defeat was unforgettable.

By beating the Pats in last year’s regular-season finale, Miami broke the NFL’s greatest dynasty as much as Tennessee did by knocking them out of the playoffs. The Dolphins, 17-point underdogs, robbed the Patriots of a first-round bye in a place they hadn’t won in since the Bush administration. The win proved a roster of castoffs could take down the greatest coach and quarterback of all time through smart, tough, disciplined football.

That’s devastation.

Flores and his staff dictated terms through an intimate understanding of Belichick’s operation and his roster. Belichick admitted this week Flores knows the Patriots as well as anyone in the league. The underpinning of Miami’s victory was the same philosophy that drives Belichick’s meetings and his program, which he explained to the NFL Network last year.

“You can go all the way back to a few hundred years B.C., Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War,'” Belichick said. “Attack weaknesses, utilize strengths and figure out what the strengths are on your team. There are some things you have to protect. Find the weaknesses of your opponent, and attack.”

Or as Tzu originally put it: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

Whether Flores coaches long enough to see 100 NFL battles, as Belichick has, will be the truest test of his program. That program has since received roster reinforcements through the draft and free agency – cornerback Byron Jones and linebacker Kyle Van Noy, to name a few – who could allow Miami to compete for a division title. All of them appear to be natural fits.

“I think I can see what he’s trying to do and the players that he brought in,” Belichick said Wednesday. “I can see how he would think that they would fit into the culture and the type of program that he’s trying to establish.”

What type of culture is that? Belichick wouldn’t say, but it’s obvious Flores is building the Patriots’ mold; through Van Noy and other free-agent additions, like linebacker Elandon Roberts and center Ted Karras. All were named Miami captains this week. The Dolphins mirror the Pats down to the bottom of their roster.

Last April, Miami spent its final draft pick on a college quarterback now transitioning to wide receiver. Sound familiar? It should.

Now get this: he went to Navy.

“Just looking at what they’ve done in terms of roster building, it’s pretty clear that Brian has a plan,” Belichick said. “He knows where he’s going.”

In response, the Patriots have evolved. They opened the door for Brady to leave in the offseason, took necessary salary-cap lumps and later signed Cam Newton.

Newton represents the franchise’s most obvious and significant change. But as one of the greatest dual-threat quarterbacks in league history, he also punctuates a trend toward a foundational offensive shift.

In free agency, one of the Pats’ first moves was to sign Dan Vitale, an extra fullback who eventually opted out. They also drafted a pair of tight ends on Day 2 and ignored a growing, gaping hole at wide receiver; all signs they intend to double down on their offensive line and run game during an unprecedented era of passing.

Not to mention the addition of quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch, whose history coaching run-based offenses popularized by the Mike Shanahan coaching tree is notable. Fisch will have some influence on the Patriots playbook. A few of those wrinkles will finally reveal themselves Sunday, as will Belichick’s game-specific defensive designs.

Same goes for Flores.

“Obviously Coach Flores was here but at the same time they can come in here, they can have any game plan they want to have,” said Pats running back James White. “So, especially (being) the first game of the season, you don’t really know what to expect.”

Expectations large and small in this new Patriots era are scattershot thanks to the Dolphins.

They proved opponents no longer must be contenders to win at Gillette Stadium. Teams only need to mirror the Pats’ best traits and punish them for their worst. Miami won’t contend this season, but they can win Sunday.

Because what Belichick presented to his team Wednesday was a rough reflection of himself. The commonalities between himself and Flores, the Patriots and the Dolphins are what ended a 20-year dynasty last December. Starting Sunday, their differences will kick off a new era; 100 more battles with an all too familiar foe.

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