MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The hits kept coming for the Miami Dolphins.
The latest to join a list of absent starters due to injuries, suspensions and self-imposed exiles was center Mike Pouncey, ruled out for Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers due to an illness.
“I didn’t know until I got to the locker room, and I went, ‘Oh, man,’ ” Miami receiver Brian Hartline said upon learning Pouncey’s unavailability. “I went over to our linemen and kind of, sort of called them out — in a very nice and calm way to make sure nobody gets disrespected — and make sure they were ready to go.”
They were. The banged-up line, which nobody would have confused for a unit full of Pro Bowlers, was good enough to help the Dolphins earn a 20-16 victory against the Chargers at Sun Life Stadium.
Whether describing the Dolphins overall or just the offensive line, the phrase “surviving when faced with adversity” fit.
Miami had lost five of its previous six games following a 3-0 start. Another loss would have put them at 4-6 and put a damper on their playoff hopes.
Then again, just the fact the postseason remained a possibility was surprising following last Monday night’s loss to previously winless Tampa Bay.
“I told the team in the locker room after the Tampa game that you either have faith and confidence in one another or you don’t,” coach Joe Philbin said. “You can’t swing back and forth based on a particular outcome or a single game.”
The loss to the Buccaneers was the latest disappointment during a challenging few weeks for the Dolphins. They followed a bye week with a home loss to Buffalo and another at New England, where slot receiver Brandon Gibson suffered a season-ending injury and Pouncey was served with subpoena to appear before a grand jury.
Then the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito harassment scandal erupted to deal a severe blow to the offensive line and to the team’s image.
The loss at Tampa Bay surprised few outsiders considering the adverse atmosphere surrounding the Dolphins.
“Regardless of what’s going on outside, we band together, with the guys here who are in this locker room stepping up, making plays and playing the game we love,” defensive end Cameron Wake, who had two important fourth-quarter sacks of San Diego’s Philip Rivers.
“This is one of the only things we have to escape everything else, to just go out and play a football game,” said receiver Mike Wallace, who had 4 catches for 39 yards.
With the offensive line already without tackle Martin and guard Incognito, the loss of Pouncey meant Nate Garner moved to center and undrafted rookie Sam Brenner took Garner’s spot at left guard.
“Adversity is a pretty good test of character, I’ve found during my life,” right tackle Tyson Clabo said. “Those guys that stepped up and did what had to be done in a touch situation says a lot.”
“We didn’t change a single thing in the game,” Garner said. “We just went out there and worked hard together.”
Both Miami and San Diego had their good and not-so-good moments through the first three quarters. Then the Dolphins stepped up with several fourth-quarter key plays, the last being cornerback Brent Grimes’ break-up of Rivers’ desperation Hail Mary on the game’s final play.
“Stuff is going to happen, whether it be in the media or at home,” Grimes said. “Stuff is going to happen, everything is not going to be perfect at all times. As professionals, we need to go out and play a football game. That’s our job, and that’s what we came out and did.”
They get another chance on Sunday against Carolina at Sun Life Stadium.
“There’s nothing better than a win regardless of the situation,” Clabo said. “We’ll take a win all day long.”