It was 21 days ago, in a less-than-full Raymond James Stadium, when the Miami Dolphins did just what many expected them to do following the outbreak of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin case.
The Dolphins lost to the winless, seemingly hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers that night and it was to be the beginning of the end of their playoff hopes.
Except the Dolphins have responded by winning two of their last three games and nearly knocking off the surging Carolina Panthers in the game they lost. They haven’t folded, haven’t quit and are hoping they can soon welcome back a potentially huge addition to the lineup and locker room in Incognito, who will be suspended with pay for two more weeks.
"We believe in our coaches and we’re going to trust their decision, but at the same time, we know what type of guy he is and we know what he can bring to our team, so we’d love to have him back," wide receiver Mike Wallace told FOX Sports by phone after Sunday’s 23-3 victory over the New York Jets. "We’re not paid to make those decisions; we’re paid to go out there and play football and trust our coaches to make the right decisions. But we always think about Richie."
When the Martin-Incognito situation initially unfolded and resulted in Incognito being suspended by the team on Nov. 3, many of Incognito’s teammates came to his defense. The message then was more of defending a guy they believed hadn’t done much wrong.
The tone has now shifted and Incognito could wind up coming through this situation in better shape than initially expected. Whereas once it was merely about coming to a teammate’s defense, now it’s more about a team that’s locked in the playoff race (tied with the Baltimore Ravens with an overall record of 6-6 but technically in seventh place because of a loss to Baltimore) hoping they can get back a big piece.
"When you have a guy like that who’s always loud, always talking, a leader, you’re always going to miss a guy like that, no matter the situation," Wallace said. "Honestly, we don’t talk about it but now that you mention it, it’s definitely a big thing for us.
"We definitely want him back. He’s a great guy to have on the field. But we’ll let the thing take its course."
Credit the mental toughness of these Dolphins and the job coach Joe Philbin has done keeping them focused. But the Dolphins know they could’ve, and should’ve, scored more points on Sunday to make for an easier victory. Against a better team, their missed opportunities early would have come back to haunt them.
Perhaps the return of Incognito would help that Dolphins offense. At the very least, that’s what they’re hoping will occur. And with the rumblings that Ted Wells has heard plenty of support for Incognito in his meetings with the Dolphins’ players and members of the coaching staff and front office, it’s possible that could happen to provide an emotional and physical lift for the team.
Once considered a guy who will never play in the NFL again, the Dolphins are starting to believe Incognito could be back before the end of the season. And that he could help extend that season into January, especially since Miami will face only one more team that currently has a winning record (the New England Patriots).
"We have strong-minded guys," Wallace said. "In the course of football, things are going to happen. Not everything is going to go your way. We just have to keep believing in each other. As long as we keep believing in each other, we’ll be fine."
REAL EMOTION FROM KNOWSHON MORENO
That river of tears coming from Knowshon Moreno’s eyes couldn’t have been natural. There had to be something artificial inducing that stream, no? Like, say, eyedrops? Or as one of my Twitter followers quipped, "What did you think, he was chopping onions?"
But the Denver Broncos’ running back said the moment the CBS cameras caught just before kickoff was as genuine as it gets.
"I think just the emotion of the game, being prepared and being ready to play this physical game. Everything just balled all into one," Moreno told FOX Sports from the victorious Broncos locker room following the 35-28 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. "It’s like the quiet before the storm with that National Anthem, it just kind of gets me sometimes. Just being emotional and grateful to play this game we love."
The skeptics still won’t believe Moreno because that many tears coming from a human eye seems impossible. But it’s not hard to understand how Moreno could be emotional like that.
This is a guy who began his career as a highly touted first-round pick and chose No. 27 in honor of late Broncos defensive back Darrent Williams, who wore the number with Denver. Williams was murdered in a shooting in 2007.
Moreno then tore his ACL in 2011 and was considered a bust and an afterthought in the Broncos backfield entering the season. But he was named the starter in Week 1, in large part because his experience over Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman made him the better option to protect Peyton Manning, and hasn’t let go of the job yet. Moreno needs 158 yards over the final four weeks to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career.
Combine all of that with the fact the Broncos were playing a physical team with the chance to put some space between them and the Chiefs, and the tears started flowing.
"Little things happen throughout your life, personally and on the field, and just being able to play this game means so much to me," Moreno said. "It’s everything. I love it. A lot of guys throughout the league go through a lot of things, but you come out on Sunday, push all of that aside and try get the common goal the team is after, and that’s to win. We played a real tough opponent today and it was a great game."
As for why he sheds buckets of tears, Moreno laughed and said, "I don’t even notice. I don’t know, man. I’m an emotional player. Every week it’s the same thing."
You know what, good for Moreno to have such perspective and genuine emotion.
Let it flow, man. Let it flow.
1) Seattle Seahawks receiver/returner/do-it-all guy Percy Harvin has yet to be officially ruled out for Monday’s game vs. the New Orleans Saints, but it’s extremely likely he sits down. Per a source, Harvin went to see doctors this weekend and had a cortisone injection into his surgically repaired hip. This is the second time the hip flared up since Harvin has returned to action. The first time was while he was practicing in October in advance of being added to the active roster. When that flareup occurred, Harvin had to have his hip drained.
Harvin’s toughness was questioned while he was a member of the Minnesota Vikings and he doesn’t want that label slapped on him to start his tenure with the Seahawks, so he’s taking the injections and undergoing the procedures to play through the issues that are nagging him – problems that are arising because he might have come back too soon. The problem is it doesn’t seem like Harvin will be able to play a few weeks in a row without any issues, yet Monday’s game and Sunday’s matchup with the San Francisco 49ers are the biggest ones left on Seattle’s schedule. Stay tuned because Harvin’s situation definitely bears watching as the postseason approaches.
2) Justin Tuck’s four sacks on Sunday put him in the company of Lawrence Taylor, Pepper Johnson, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora as New York Giants who have had four sacks or more in a game. (Taylor did it twice. Umenyiora has the record with six against the Eagles in 2007.) Tuck is in a contract year and helped his statistical case for a new deal to go along with his thankless work against the run this year. Tuck, finally healthy after battling a bunch of injuries in recent years, surely expected a contract extension from the Giants by now, but the sides haven’t been able to reach agreement. The 30-year-old Tuck has been the defensive captain of the team since Strahan retired after the 2007 season, so chances are his next contract will be with the Giants. Perhaps Sunday’s game will convince the team he still has enough left to warrant a lucrative multi-year deal.
3) Speaking of that Giants victory over the Washington Redskins, let’s not let the officials’ brain cramp at the end mask the fact Fred Davis dropped a pass and Pierre GarÃ§on let the Giants’ Will Hill rip the ball right out of his hands. Good teams overcome forces beyond their control and then don’t make excuses for them. Had the play call put the Redskins in a bad position, they’d have a better case. But the ball was in the hands of two of their better offensive playmakers. The plays have to be made. The fact they weren’t made, and haven’t been made for much of the season, is why the Redskins are 3-9.
4) The New York Jets were trying to keep Geno Smith propped up mentally and obviously wanted to see how long they could go without benching him. But it was obvious to everyone Smith has been shaken for a while and the fan base would have little patience for his struggles this week. Wallace told FOX Sports, "We kind of thought that. I mean, I did. Just knowing where we were playing and knowing it’s a tough crowd to play in front of. But at the same time, they’re not just tough on us, they’re tough on their own team. Sometimes, that can go both ways. That can be good or bad for them."
The Jets now face a delicate situation. They’ve sat Smith down during games a few times now, but to declare Matt Simms or David Garrard the starter going into a game is a completely different situation. Rex Ryan wouldn’t commit to Smith as his starter immediately following the game. Last year, Ryan gave Mark Sanchez every chance to keep the job, then pretty much made it clear he was giving him one last chance before going with Greg McElroy. We’ll see if Ryan takes a similar approach with Smith this year. If so, his last chance would seemingly be next Sunday vs. the Raiders.
5.) We’d love to know what Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell is thinking when seeing his team win three of its last four games (all on the road, by the way). Surely, he’s stoked to see guys making plays to win games, but they’re no longer in the drivers’ seat for the top pick in next spring’s draft. This team went from seemingly making a run at 0-16 to not even being in last place in its division.
Now bringing up the rear in the AFC South is the Houston Texans (2-10), Jacksonsville’s next opponent Thursday night. At the very least, Caldwell has to be pleased with the way his young defensive backs are flashing. Rookies Dwayne Gratz and Jonathan Cyprien have been playing well and each had an interception Sunday. Having a budding secondary isn’t a bad way to face the future in this league. Not at all.
And by the way, if you’re curious whether the Jaguars are making a push for the most wins in a season for a team that started 0-8, then you’re just like me. And to answer our question, they have a lot of work left to do. The 1978 St. Louis Cardinals went 6-2 down the stretch to finish 6-10.
10 EVEN QUICKER TAKES
Sean McGrath: On a day full of critical calls and non-calls by officials late in games, the Broncos seemed to get away with one on the Chiefs’ failed final fourth down. McGrath was being held by Denver’s Duke Ihenacho. And even if it wasn’t holding, it was illegal contact because Ihenacho contacted McGrath more than five yards off the ball. It probably should have been first-and-goal at the 8 for Kansas City instead of game over.
Nick Foles: In the first quarter, the Eagles’ quarterback realized he wouldn’t make it to the sideline without being contacted at the end of a scramble. So he quickly got down and avoided contact. It was a lesson learned from his concussion against the Dallas Cowboys. And while it lacked style points, it allowed Foles to continue. Foles did it again in the third quarter and then awkwardly dodged another defender one play later.
Alshon Jeffery: How strong must his hands be for him to maintain control of the ball on his leaping, forward-leaning touchdown in the third quarter? Incredible hand strength. The Vikings’ Chris Cook, ejected for nudging an official after that play, surely believed Jeffery’s hands were too strong while pushing off.
Jeffery and Josh Gordon: They had a combined 510 yards receiving and four touchdowns. And both of their teams still lost. Add in Gordon’s 237 yards and a touchdown in the Cleveland Browns’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week and that’s 740 yards and five touchdowns in three losses for those guys.
Athletic supporters: We mean cups, not cheerleaders. Seriously, why don’t most guys wear them? If you thought RG3 got it bad when he was kicked in the groin area on Monday, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis got it worse when St. Louis Rams safety T.J. McDonald grabbed him in the groin region. And by the way, great commentary by FOX’s John Lynch afterward: "He’ll be back (but) he might be singing soprano."
Joe Staley: As others, including the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows, reported on Sunday, the belief (read: hope) is the San Francisco 49ers’ tackle suffered a sprained MCL and didn’t damage his ACL. An MRI Monday will tell the full story. If so, that will be another huge break for the 49ers’ line. Staley dodged a major injury against the St. Louis Rams earlier this year and guard Mike Iupati also avoided an ACL injury last month.
Michael Griffin: The suspended Tennessee Titans safety wasn’t on the field Sunday. George Wilson started in his place. Wilson dropped an interception that was right in his hands early in the fourth quarter. Maybe Griffin makes that play. And maybe the Titans, who were trailing by one point at the time, win the game and are still in control of their playoff destiny. Alas, they no longer are.
Ted Ginn: The Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver beat Darrelle Revis on a double move for a touchdown. It was his fourth receiving touchdown of the year. What a redemption story for a guy who’d been written off as a bust.
Alex Smith: Though he and the Chiefs didn’t complete the comeback, he played outstanding football and was much more than a game manager on Sunday. Plus, his receivers dropped a few deep balls. He was excellent and gave this team hope he can do more than people think.
Rob Gronkowski: For a guy known to be as gentle as a bull in a china shop, he made a nifty catch on his 23-yard touchdown to slide his hands under the football and keep it from skimming the grass. Very nice play right there.