If you try to give the Bucs a wedgie but end up wearing the underwear on your head, is it still considered bullying?
That’s another question investigators have to deal with after Tampa Bay beat Miami 22-19 Monday night. It wasn’t so much a football game as a nationally televised psychology experiment.
How would the Dolphins react after a week of getting lashed by Hurricane Incognito? The initial diagnosis:
The patient is more messed up than ever. But wouldn’t you be?
There are distractions, like when your starting tackle gets busted for DUI. Then there are distractions, like when your starting tackle goes into therapy after getting thousands of racially tinged love notes from your starting left guard.
As embarrassing as Bullygate is for the Dolphins, it at least gave some intrigue to an otherwise throwaway game. You know things are weird when an owner stages an impromptu news conference three hours before the game to announce a blue-ribbon task force will look into his team’s locker room culture.
“I was appalled,” Stephen Ross said. “I think anybody would be appalled.”
No, he wasn’t talking about the $30,000 dinner bill Miami rookies reportedly got stuck with as part of the team’s “culture.” He wasn’t even talking about his team’s play in the first quarter. Ross was referring to the texts from Richie Incognito to Jonathan Martin, who is currently in California with his family and receiving unspecified treatment for his personal Richie detox program.
Miami’s vices have gone super-circus, so the big question going into Monday night was whether all the unwanted attention would be a unifying force or mess with their minds.
“I don’t think we were distracted at all,” center Mike Pouncey said after the game. “We clawed, we scratched, we did everything we could to win the game.”
If that was everything, the Dolphins are in bigger trouble than suspected. If a shrink could have gotten into the locker room for a quick postgame diagnosis, he or she would say Miami has spun into a state of denial.
“I thought our concentration was good,” head coach Joe Philbin said. “Our tempo wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t because of our preparation.”
All that preparation got them into a 15-0 hole — to a team which entered the night 0-8. Losing to what was the only winless team in the NFL will only prolong the scrutiny. Besides the media, there’s the NFL’s investigation, along with Ross’ new task force. Before delving into the texts, it should try to find out where Miami’s running game went.
The Dolphins gained 2 yards on the ground. Two, as in six feet. As in 72 inches — or five fewer than Martin if he laid face-down on the Raymond James Stadium turf. Which he might have been forced to if Incognito had still been around.
In keeping with the denial theme, players said the offense did not really miss either player. From all the support Incognito received over the last week, you half-expected Miami to have a locker sealed for their fallen comrade. In it would be a candle, a stripper and a picture of Incognito and Martin walking hand-in-hand on the beach.
“My actions were coming from a place of love,” he told FOX’s Jay Glazer.
His coming-out interview Sunday only added to America’s confusion over a culture where “I’m going to murder your (expletive) family” means I love you. Wherever that debate leads, millions of people had to be chuckling at how Team Bully got punched in the mouth by the NFL’s 98-pound Schiano.
Tampa Bay’s coach was on the hottest seat in the league until Philbin knocked him aside. The Bucs looked like Denver early on Monday, right down to a 1-yard pass to tackle Donald Penn. At 340 pounds, he may have set an NFL record for heaviest receiver to catch a touchdown.
Being the Bucs, the good play couldn’t last. Miami rallied to take a 19-15 lead, but Tampa Bay came back with a 1-yard touchdown run by Bobby Rainey with 10:19 left. The Dolphins’ final possession ended with two straight sacks, an incomplete pass and an interception by Darrelle Revis.
Yes, that Darrelle Revis. After spending the first eight games in Schiano’s Cornerback Protection Program, he was officially spotted Monday night.
That bodes well for one incredibly dysfunctional team. As for the other, the questions aren’t going anywhere.
“We just need to get this thing worked out and get this story behind us,” said Bryant McKinnie, an offensive lineman still suiting up for Miami.
The first step is to admit you have a problem. On and off the field, the Dolphins have enough to keep coaches and shrinks busy for at least the next few weeks.
The bill for bullying is coming due. And they can’t just stick it to the poor rookies and walk merrily away.