New England Patriots

While their talented counterparts find themselves in an unfamiliar spotlight, it’s business as usual for Trey Flowers and his Patriots mates.

By Bob Socci, 98.5 The Sports Hub

In Sunday’s late afternoon hours, a time networks rarely reserved in the past for teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, much of the nation will continue getting to know the richly athletic upstarts who almost upended the NFL with their near-upset of the Patriots in January’s AFC Championship.

As CBS’s marquee matinee of Week 2, Jacksonville’s rematch with New England marks the Jags’ first home opener staged outside the 1 p.m. window since 2006. That September, like this, happened to follow a playoff defeat to the Pats.

But within two years of their 4 p.m. win over Dallas on Sept. 10, 2006, the Jaguars, as losers of 11 games in 2008, were well on their way to early-kickoff relegation before regional viewing audiences. Double-digit defeats would become the norm, as they went 5-11, 2-14, 4-12, 3-13, 5-11 and 3-13 under three head coaches from 2011-16.

Then came 2017. Jacksonville tilted the win-loss columns to the left, winning 10 times in the regular season and twice more in the playoffs. In their third postseason game, the Jaguars were three-quarters of the way to a fourth, Super Bowl LII, only to relinquish a 20-10 lead in a 24-20 loss.

FOXBOROUGH, MA – JANUARY 21: Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots deflects a pass intended for Dede Westbrook #12 of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fouorth quarter during the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

This time around, the same young studs — mainly residing on defense — who strutted into Foxborough seven months ago seem poised to reserve a place in the national TV spotlight for some time to come. At least one, brash cornerback Jalen Ramsey already has with his bold verbal takedowns in magazine takeouts.

Surely on Sunday, CBS will dedicate an iso camera to Ramsey. And no doubt, Jim Nantz will douse linebacker Myles Jack with praise while Tony Romo devotes attention to the Pats’ efforts to block defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. All of it will be well deserved.

Ngakoue is one of the game’s most dangerous edge rushers, accounting for a dozen of Jacksonville’s 55 sacks last year. Overall, he has 20 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in 33 regular-season games. Meanwhile, Jack opened this season against the Giants with 10 tackles and a 32-yard fumble return for a score. It was the Jaguars’ ninth defensive touchdown (including playoffs) since the start of 2017.

At the same time, there will be a second set of defenders on TIAA Bank Field that are accustomed to main-event appearances. They aren’t as acclaimed as their counterparts, who include four 2017 Pro Bowlers. Nor do they carry themselves with the bravado of the swaggering Jags, whose self-dubbed nickname is “#Sacksonville.”

Yet they are accomplished in their own right.

None more so than Trey Flowers, who Romo called “maybe the most underrated player in the NFL on defense” during last Sunday’s broadcast. Romo said it as Flowers was recording 1.5 sacks in a 27-20 win over Houston. With 15 sacks in his last 31 games — not including 2.5 sacks in Super Bowl LI — Flowers was the Patriots’ leader each of the past two seasons. And although he didn’t collect a sack of Blake Bortles in the AFC Championship, Flowers was credited with four quarterback hits; the last on Jacksonville’s final pass play.

Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA: Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson throws a pass while pressured by New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers during the second half at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA: Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson throws a pass while pressured by New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers during the second half at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Described by teammates as an expert technician, Flowers possesses especially long arms that allow him to leverage blockers. He also exemplifies the leadership to reach others.

“Trey’s a guy the others in the room respect, and they respect him for what he does as opposed to what he says,” defensive line coach Brendan Daly said last month. “He’s a guy who’s about action. He’s a guy who’s about doing things the way they’re supposed to be done. Not a big vocal guy, but he’s definitely got a tremendous amount of wisdom and insight. He’s willing to share it, you just got to pull it out of him sometimes.”

Flowers and line mates routinely refine their individual techniques before and after team practices. Another is his college teammate at Arkansas, Deatrich Wise Jr., who also had 1.5 sacks vs. Houston (in just 22 snaps).

Their position group of linemen also includes Wise’s second-year classmates Keionta Davis, Adam Butler and Derek Rivers, as well as Flowers’ fellow fourth-year pros Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton. Collectively, they bring a youthful energy to Daly’s meeting room at Gillette and the practice-field classroom behind it.

“There’s great enthusiasm,” Daly said. “There’s great work ethic in that group. They enjoy being around each other and there are several of them in there who are kind of in the same age [group], in the first couple of years into their careers, that have gotten close.

“It’s been fun to be a part of, to watch them improve. They help each other and they care about each other. They genuinely do.”

Sep 9, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise reacts after a sack during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Sep 9, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise reacts after a sack during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Older influences on these youthful Patriots are Lawrence Guy and Adrian Clayborn, both in their eighth NFL seasons. While the well-traveled Guy joined New England last year, the ex-Buccaneer and Falcon Clayborn arrived in the spring via free agency.

“People talk a lot of times that (someone’s) a ‘pro,’” Daly said of Clayborn, the 20th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and a source of 30 career sacks. “You would certainly use that word with Adrian.

“Adrian has been incredibly coachable. He’s been open-minded. There’s certainly some things that we’re asking him to do that are different than what he’s done in the past, unfamiliar to him. He’s been willing and worked as hard as he can to master those things as quickly as he can. He’s another guy who doesn’t say a whole lot (but) asks really good questions, and you can tell, based on his experiences he’s been through, (he) knows the questions to ask in certain situations.”

Clayborn’s younger teammates also rave about his work ethic. To him, the feeling is mutual.

“They work just as hard as I do,” Clayborn said recently. “They don’t know it yet, but they work real hard here and it’s going to help them a lot in the future.”

The immediate future, of course, features a 4:25 p.m. kickoff in Jacksonville. One unit expects to make a splash in an unfamiliar time slot.

The other intends to handle its business as usual.

You can hear Bob Socci on the call of the game on every game day for the New England Patriots, right here on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can also hear him on his own The Gridiron And Beyond podcast at 985TheSportsHub.com.