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NFL Preview - Miami (4-4) at Tampa Bay (0-8)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - When the 0-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers look like a sea of tranquility in comparison, you know you've had a rough week.
The Miami Dolphins seized the title of "team turmoil" over the past few days just as they get ready to face the embattled Greg Schiano and his winless Bucs on "Monday Night Football."
In fact MRSA infections, lunging at the opposition's knees while they're in the victory formation or "Fire Schiano" signs seem quaint compared to the firestorm that erupted in South Florida when Dolphins second-year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team and accused linemate Richie Incognito of bullying him incessantly.
Incognito is firmly entrenched as the villain in this narrative especially after a voicemail surfaced with him using a racial slur and threatening physical harm to Martin and his family.
The Dolphins indefinitely suspended Incognito, who has a history of violent and erratic behavior dating back to his collegiate days at Nebraska, for conduct detrimental to the team.
Martin, meanwhile, is currently away from the Dolphins after abruptly leaving the club following an incident in the team cafeteria in which several teammates left a table as he was about to sit down in an apparent prank.
"We believe in maintaining a culture of respect for one another and as a result we believe this [suspension] is in the best interest of the organization at this time," the Dolphins said in a statement." As we noted earlier, we reached out to the NFL to conduct an objective and thorough review. We will continue to work with the league on this matter."
The league appointed attorney Ted Wells, one of the nation's most prominent attorneys, to direct an independent investigation into issues of workplace conduct around the organization and prepare a report for commissioner Roger Goodell, which will be made public.
"Ted Wells will independently direct the investigation and submit a report to me," commissioner Goodell said. "Mr. Wells will conduct a thorough and objective investigation. He will ensure that we have all the facts so that we can address this matter constructively."
Incognito began his career with the St. Louis Rams in 2005 and has been marred by a reputation as a dirty player. He was eventually released by St. Louis midway through the 2009 season after drawing two personal fouls and clashing with then-head coach Steve Spagnuolo during a game against Tennessee.
This issue, though, doesn't seem all that cut and dry any longer as some reports claim that Incognito was asked by the Miami coaching staff to "toughen up" Martin, and many of Ingognito's teammates, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill, have defended him.
Tannehill claimed an accurate description of Incognito and Martin would be that they were like best friends and brothers.
"If you asked Jonathan Martin a week before who his best friend is he would have said Richie Incognito," Tannehill said Wednesday. "I would say Jonathan is like Richie's little brother. I think that's an accurate description. He gave him a hard time, he messed with him, but he was the first guy to have his back."
Martin's camp struck back on Thursday night claiming Martin's toughness is not in question and his treatment went far beyond good-natured hazing or any other comparable hi jinx.
"Jonathan Martin's toughness is not at issue," his lawyer David Cornwell said in the statement. "Jonathan has started every game with the Miami Dolphins since he was drafted in 2012. At Stanford, he was the anchor for Jim Harbaugh's 'smash mouth' brand of football and he protected Andrew Luck's blind side.
"The issue is Jonathan's treatment by his teammates. Jonathan endured harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing. For the entire season-and-a-half that he was with the Dolphins, he attempted to befriend the same teammates who subjected him to the abuse with the hope that doing so would end the harassment. This is a textbook reaction of victims of bullying. Despite these efforts, the taunting continued. Beyond the well- publicized voice mail with its racial epithet, Jonathan endured a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate. These facts are not in dispute.
"Eventually, Jonathan made a difficult choice. Despite his love for football, Jonathan left the Dolphins. Jonathan looks forward to getting back to playing football. In the meantime, he will cooperate fully with the NFL investigation."
The statement also included an alleged vulgar quote from an anonymous teammate directed at Martin's sister.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said if the NFL decides there was wrongdoing the team "will take all necessary measures to fix it and to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Tannehill, meanwhile, called Incognito "a great teammate to me" said the nine- year veteran guard brought a lot of laughter and cohesiveness to the locker room.
"He's the best teammate you could ask for," the second-year signal caller said.
In the midst of this controversy which has reached far beyond football the Dolphins have been preparing for the Bucs after halting an ugly four-game losing streak when Cameron Wake sacked Andy Dalton in the end zone for a safety with 6:38 left in overtime on Halloween night, giving Miami a wild and much-needed 22-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Sun Life Stadium.
Wake's third sack of the night ended the four-game skid for the Dolphins, one that very nearly reached five after a pair of Giovani Bernard second-half rushing touchdowns and Mike Nugent's 54-yard field goal turned a 14-point deficit into a 20-17 Cincinnati lead with 1:24 remaining in regulation.
"Our backs were up against the wall for a couple weeks in a row and we kept getting pushed back and finally we got out of that hole a little bit tonight," said Tannehill. "It was a huge win for us."
The Dolphins' special teams came through down the stretch with rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis drilling a game-tying 44-yard field goal with 11 seconds to go in the fourth quarter and Brandon Fields setting up Wake's final sack by pinning the Bengals deep in their own end with a 32-yard pooch punt.
Miami's defense aided the cause as well by intercepting Andy Dalton three times, one of which was returned 94 yards for a touchdown by Brent Grimes.
The Dolphins got a turnover-free performance from Tannehill and a 16-carry, 105-yard effort out of Lamar Miller. Tannehill had a 1-yard touchdown run while going an efficient 20-of-28 for 208 yards through the air.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is coming off perhaps its best performance of the season by taking high-powered Seattle to overtime in the Pacific Northwest before falling 27-24 when Steven Hauschka hit a 27-yard field goal with 8:13 left in the extra frame to cap the largest comeback in Seahawks history.
The Bucs scored the first 21 points of the game and led 24-7 midway through the third before faltering. Tampa Bay rookie running back Mike James put forth the best effort of his young career, compiling 158 rushing yards on 28 carries while adding a 2-yard TD pass in the setback.
Mike Glennon completed 17-of-23 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns for the Buccaneers, who are off to their worst start since opening the 1985 campaign 0-9.
"When you have a team down like that, you've got to choke them out," Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "Because great teams come back. And they are a great team.
The Bucs have won three of four against the Dolphins, including the last two meetings in Tampa Bay. The Dolphins haven't won there since Oct. 30, 1988.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Forget the Xs and Os in this one for Miami, this is all about Philbin's leadership and whether this team can stick together with the national media spotlight shining brightly.
"Right now we're focused on sticking together as a team, having each others' backs as a team, and getting ready to play a football game," Tannehill said. "At the end of the day, we're playing a Tampa Bay team on the road on Monday. So we have to deal with this, yes, but we also have to get ready to play a football game."
Without the distractions Tampa Bay probably wouldn't have much of a chance. The Bucs offense has been declawed thanks to Schiano's deposing of the once- dynamic Josh Freeman at quarterback along with injuries to running back Doug Martin and receiver Mike Williams.
The Bucs rank 31st in the NFL in both points per game (15.5) and yards per contest (304.4).
There is some hope, however. The 24 points scored in Seattle were a season- high for Tampa Bay and rookie QB Glennon hasn't thrown an interception in three games. James also showed he had some juice as the fill-in for Martin.
"Those are things that are getting us excited and encouraged," Schiano said. "Three games without an interception. That's how we have to play the game. I'm mad at myself for not getting us there sooner."
Who's the biggest bully in the Sunshine State -- Tampa Bay's my- way-or-the- highway Schiano or disgraced Dolphins right guard Incognito?
Maybe the real answer is the NFL for subjecting us to this matchup on "Monday Night Football."
The Dolphins have actually made Schiano's toxic tenure in Tampa Bay look tame this week with the Martin-Incognito controversy and the Bucs are primed for the upset here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Buccaneers 21, Dolphins 17
11/10 12:52:23 ET
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