DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins won their opener for just the second time in eight seasons. Happiness and joy all around, right?
Well, not exactly.
Overshadowing Miami’s 23-10 win Sunday at Cleveland were two of the team’s most decorated players expressing displeasure. Wide receiver Mike Wallace was unhappy after the game at catching just one pass for 15 yards in his Dolphins’ debut. Defensive tackle Randy Starks, likely displeased at not starting while coming off a Pro Bowl season, made an obscene gesture in the fourth quarter, possibly directed as his bench.
At least there was effort Monday to put one of the incidents behind the Dolphins. While Starks did not make himself available for comment during the media open locker room period, Wallace did what he could to downplay what happened Sunday.
“I’m mad at myself just because I didn’t have a good game,” Wallace said. “That’s all to it. … I was upset with myself. It wasn’t really anything else to do with anything. I would’ve told you the same thing regardless. If you ask me about the plays, I don’t really have the answer. That’s all I meant by that.”
Wallace, who signed a five-year, $60 million deal last spring as the NFL’s most coveted free agent, is expected to be the deep threat the Dolphins so desperately need. While Wallace did say Monday he believes his presence helped possession receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson catch nine and seven balls, respectively, he sure wasn’t happy about his receiving total immediately after Sunday’s game.
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland had to escort an upset Wallace off the field. Wallace then was very brief while talking to reporters.
“I don’t feel like talking about it,” Wallace said about the game plan. “Ask coach.”
Wallace on Monday claimed, “I’m always happy to win.” He said earlier in the day he had talked to Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, although no details of the conversation were divulged.
“I want our players, all 46 players that dressed, to want to make an impact and want to contribute and make a difference in the football game,” Philbin said in downplaying Wallace’s pouting.
Although it is a bit disconcerting Wallace acted like he did after a win, if he comes back and has some big games, the Dolphins might not have anything to worry about. Starks, though, could be a much bigger problem despite his denying on Twitter.
Starks actually had a good game against the Browns, recording 1.5 sacks. Starks, who has not hid his frustration before at being given the franchise tag and not signed to a long-term contract during the offseason, made his obscene gesture after sacking Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden in the waning minutes. He tried to diffuse the situation when he took to Twitter on Monday afternoon.
“I never said anything about being upset at the coaches or organization,” Starks tweeted. “I’m over the contract issues. … Joking with my teammates about getting a sack… Could have used different gesture but its over now… Moving on!!!”
Before Starks’ tweet, Philbin had joked about the intended target for the gesture.
“Probably at me, directly,” Philbin said. “It’s important for all our players to act the right way on and off the field, and I am aware of it and it’s very important that we do that.”
Philbin wasn’t the only one trying to find some humor in the situation. Dolphins cornerback Brett Grimes saw what Starks did while watching game footage Monday on his iPad.
“I was laughing,” Grimes said. “I don’t know what it was about. … I don’t know what he was doing it for. It was just so out there. It was funny. I don’t know anything. I just saw a middle finger.”
Starks, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, is making $8.45 million this season. However, he skipped voluntary workouts during the spring to protest not getting a long-term deal.
Starks had been listed as even with Jared Odrick on the depth chart during the preseason. But Odrick ended up getting the nod against the Browns.
If there is one bright spot for the Dolphins about Starks, maybe being angry will fire him up to have continued good games. As for Wallace, the Dolphins are hoping his attitude after Sunday’s game was an aberration.
“Mike’s a competitor,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “He wants to feel part of the game. … The fact he was disappointed he only caught one ball, that’s expected and I have no problem with that, and I told him he can communicate that to me at any time he wants to. I have no problem with Mike being disappointed as long as he comes back practices hard (Tuesday) and with a smile on his face and he will, and be ready to next week put it behind him and move on.”
Wallace already seems ready to move on. As for Starks, that could be a different story.