FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Like most of the Patriots players, Trey Flowers generally stays under the radar.

Flowers has become one of the leaders on a defense that has finally found some stability after struggling early in the season. He has helped fill the void created by Dont’a Hightower’s season-ending shoulder injury.

Flowers missed all but one game during his rookie season in 2015 before being placed on injured reserve because of knee and shoulder issues. He returned in 2016 and appeared in all 16 regular-season games, had a team-leading seven sacks and 2½ more in the playoffs.

The 24-year-old has been equally impressive this season.

Flowers again led the team with 6½ sacks and also had 12 tackles and a half-sack over his final three games, his best three-game stretch of the regular season. He’s added another sack and eight tackles since the start of the postseason.

He said getting back to the Super Bowl is proof of how far the defense has progressed since it ranked at the bottom of the NFL in total defense for nine straight weeks in the regular season.

“It’s big. Just the fashion of how we got to (the Super Bowl),” Flowers said. “It took complete, four-quarter games. It took everybody. It’s pretty big.”

Defensive captain Devin McCourty said the time Flowers has put in over the past two seasons is recognizable.

“If you guys talk to Trey you can see he doesn’t talk a lot. He’s not a man of many words,” McCourty said. (The team knows) “how much he cares about playing well individually and the success of the team. When he speaks, guys tend to listen.”

Coach Bill Belichick said Flowers is displaying the same conditioning and ability to finish games now they saw when they first scouted him at Arkansas.

“He plays hard, pursues the ball well, played a lot of plays at Arkansas (and) wasn’t substituted for a lot. He was in there and played a lot of important plays, kind of as you would expect him to be given the caliber of his play,” Belichick said.

PANTHERS: New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has no plans to restrict Cam Newton’s ability to make plays with his feet, but his throwing motion might need a little tweaking.

Turner, 65, said he returned to coaching because of an opportunity to work again with Panthers Coach Ron Rivera – who was on his coaching staff for four seasons in San Diego – and to coach the talented group of offensive players led by Newton.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton has carried the ball 828 times over the past seven seasons. By comparison, Seattle’s Russell Wilson has run the ball 578 times during his six seasons.

BOB COSTAS was not included in the network’s lineup for Super Bowl for NBC on Feb. 4, leading to speculation that Costas’ comments about head injuries in football might have affected the decision.

During an appearance in November, he said of football: “the reality is that this game destroys people’s brains.”

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