After a disheartening loss to the NFL’s last winless team, the Miami Dolphins are looking to end their struggles and move past the distractions caused by the Richie Incognito saga.
Tied with the Dolphins on the outside of the AFC playoff race, the San Diego Chargers also hope to get right Sunday when they seek their first win in Miami in almost 32 years.
Playing for the first time since allegations of bullying between starting offensive linemen engulfed the locker room in controversy, the Dolphins (4-5) lost for the fifth time in six games with a 22-19 setback at previously-winless Tampa Bay on Monday night.
Second-year tackle Jonathan Martin alleges he was harassed daily by teammates, including Incognito, who has been suspended. Martin left the team before last week’s game and is scheduled to meet with an NFL special investigator, while owner Stephen Ross has formed two committees to study the team’s locker room culture.
“We have good guys on this team who understand adversity and understand how to handle it,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “This is a good test. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it’s fun to deal with. But I have faith in these guys.”
Now Miami coach Joe Philbin faces the challenge of keeping his team focused on its goal of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Despite their recent swoon, the Dolphins trail the New York Jets by just one game for the AFC’s sixth and final postseason spot.
While the Dolphins have allowed the most sacks in the league (37) and figure to be even more vulnerable up front with Martin and Incognito sidelined, San Diego’s pass rush has only managed a pair of sacks over its last two games.
The Chargers (4-5) – also one game back in the playoff hunt, but in 11th place when you include tiebreakers – hope to bounce back after dropping games to Washington and Denver by a combined 14 points.
Since giving up a total of 15 points in consecutive wins over Indianapolis and Jacksonville, San Diego has allowed 58 over the past two weeks. Robert Griffin III and Peyton Manning combined to complete 70.5 percent of their passes for 621 yards against the Chargers, who rank 28th in the league with 279.6 passing yards allowed per game.
“What happens when you play a good team like this, the little mistakes blow up in a hurry,” said coach Mike McCoy after Manning burned his team for four touchdown passes.
Tannehill will look to take advantage of San Diego’s scuffling pass defense after completing 67.1 percent of his attempts for 437 yards with two scores and one pick in his last two games. He connected on only 54.5 percent for 942 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions during the team’s four-game losing streak.
Tannehill, however, would like to get some help from a running game that was limited to a franchise-low two yards against the Buccaneers. One game after posting the first 100-yard effort of his career, Lamar Miller carried seven times for two yards – with a long of four.
“We didn’t have any type of way to keep them off balance because we weren’t able to establish the run,” Philbin said.
In the most recent meeting on Oct. 2, 2011, Philip Rivers completed 21 of 31 passes for 307 yards and a touchdown in a 26-16 win over visiting Miami.
On Sunday, Rivers threw for 218 yards on 19 of 29 passing with one score in a 28-20 home loss to the Broncos. He fired a seven-yard scoring strike to Danny Woodhead, who has a team-high 53 catches for 408 yards and four touchdowns.
Rivers, who has a career-high 71.6 completion percentage, has connected on 74.3 percent for an average of 328.0 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions in five road games.
He could find the going a bit more difficult against Miami, which has allowed an average of 176.0 passing yards while causing seven turnovers over its last four contests.
Making matters worse, San Diego left tackle King Dunlap went down with a strained neck against Denver and doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play. The Chargers also have lost outside linebacker Larry English for the season due to a pectoral injury.
San Diego has lost on its last six trips to Miami, including a pair of playoff meetings. The Chargers’ last victory in south Florida was the well-known 41-38 overtime thriller in the AFC Divisional playoff game on Jan. 2, 1982.