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How the Patriots proved the Bengals wrong twice in the same year

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A look at how two Bengals castoffs will be playing the the Super Bowl on Sunday, and why the Bengals didn’t keep them.

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The Patriots have a long history during the Bill Belichick era of bringing in castoff players from other teams.

They provide a low risk for the Patriots, who hope to get a big return on giving out another chance to the player. It doesn’t always work, but it has worked out twice for them this offseason.

Both of those situations were when they brought in Bengals players. The First was Rex Burkhead in free agency, and the second was when they traded a seventh-round pick for Marquis Flowers.

Neither of these moves seemed like a big deal when they happened. They certainly didn’t seem like they’d be moves we’d be talking about during Super Bowl week, but that is the beauty of the Patriots’ method in acquiring players.

Flowers was the odd man out this offseason after the Bengals brought in Carl Lawson and Jordan Evans through the draft. Plus, they added Kevin Minter through free agency to go along with Vontaze Burfict, Nick Vigil, and Vincent Rey.

When it became apparent that he was going to be cut, New England called up offering a seventh-round pick for the player. Little did we know the Patriots would end up with the last laugh.

Flowers ended up with 32 tackles, 3.5 sacks, a pass deflection and a forced fumble. It was also frustrating to watch this unfold as the Bengals’ linebackers fell off one by one due to injury this season, and according to Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ official site, he still keeps in touch with Rey.

”I just talked to him tonight,” Flowers told Hobson. “Vinny’s my guy. He’s happy for me. He’s been there for me. I went through some tough days that were hard for me, kind of like he did, and he gave me some veteran leadership. Vinny’s a great locker room guy. Always there to help you on and off the field.”

He also doesn’t harbor any ill feeling toward the team that traded him (even though a few fans might).

”I’m not the first player, I’m not the first case,” Flowers said. “No hard feelings. Everything happens for a reason. I’m just happy to be in this spot with this organization with a chance to be crowned champion.”

As for Burkhead, this isn’t the first time the Patriots have used a former Bengals’ running back to reach the Super Bowl. How could we forget Corey Dillon’s magical season with the Patriots that ended with them winning their third Super Bowl in four years, as well as Dillon’s unforgettable highlight of falling into the end zone?

Burkhead hasn’t had the same impact as Dillon did that season, but he still has been a very important player to the Patriots this season. He finished the Regular Season with eight total touchdowns and a blocked punt. He has fit right into the rotation of Patriots’ running backs as a weird mix of a short-yardage runner and receiving back. He averages 8.5 yards a reception. One person who can’t stop singing his praises is the Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears.

”He’s proven to be very, very good in the open field, a very good pass route runner, very good in blitz pickup,” Fears told the Bengals’ official site. “He’s a tough guy. He plays big for a small guy. There’s a lot more to him than the little package you thought he had.”

He went on to talk about how impressed he was with the Bengals’ talent at running back and how it led to the Patriots being able to pick him up.

”Look at all the backs you’ve got,” Fears said about the Bengals. “He didn’t have a place. It was perfect for him to fall to us. Tons of guys. There was no place for him. He was playing special teams for you, and he did well, and he’s helped us there, too.”

So this leads to the question of how did these guys end up flourishing with the Patriots after barely being able to get on the field with the Bengals? In Burkhead’s case, it was a matter of bad timing, but also a coaching staff that decided they’d rather watch Jeremy Hill run into a wall then give Burkhead a shot, a shot he ended up getting right in time for free agency.

In the final game of the 2016 season, the Bengals started Burkhead, and he ended up with 27 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns. That performance was bittersweet for Bengals fans. It was great not only to see a player like that perform so well, but it was really one of the first concrete movements where we saw proof that this coaching staff wasn’t giving the best players into the game.

Why the Bengals never gave Flowers a shot I don’t think we will ever know. Odds are they didn’t view him as a potential starter like they did with Vigil. Plus the team views Rey as their first man off the bench in case of injury.

It also feels like the Bengals didn’t think he fit what they wanted to do on defense rather than carve out a role on defense to help highlight his ability.

It is times like these that make you really wonder what led to the decisions made by this team for all those years when these guys were here.