Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida
By ANDREW ASTLEFORD  |  Last updated 11/12/13
TAMPA, Fla. -- Then there was kickoff. Didn't the past week feel like a bizarre blur, a dreadful dream? All the confusion, nasty accusations, the flawed friendship, undertones of racism ... did you ever wonder when the mess would end? The Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito saga isn't over. Not close. Nor should it be, with more questions to be asked and closure to be gained within a situation that speaks to issues larger than what are settled on a field. The Miami Dolphins stepped away from their firestorm and played a football game Monday night. That was something, however small, even if the smoke plumes of this ugly controversy followed them north to Raymond James Stadium. --A pregame news conference by owner Stephen Ross, one in which he said the turmoil "couldn't have been a worse nightmare." --A sentence, listed under changes in the Dolphins' starting lineup: "At Right Tackle 77 Tyson Clabo will start in place of 71 Jonathan Martin." --A name, typed last among the Dolphins' seven inactive players: "71 T Jonathan Martin." "Not at all," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said, when asked if the saga played a role in Miami's 22-19 loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "We had plenty of time to prepare for this game. We had a very good week of preparation for the game. In the NFL, you have 16-game schedules and no excuses. Yeah, they played better." It's risky business to measure distractions. One team's interference is another's rallying cry. This is no black-and-white situation, only one with a whole lot of gray and fuzzy lines. Usually, we're color-blind to the NFL's dark side. We don't want to consider the egos, the bravado, the mishmash of values that thrive in a locker room. Usually, that's a private place. The sausage tastes good on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays. We feed our obsession and become fat from an addiction that feels harmless as we prep our tailgates and adjust our fantasy rosters. Why question the process? Why not savor and enjoy? Monday, it was hard to watch without thinking of what we don't see. Martin and Incognito represent a window into something larger. Jobs are at stake in South Florida: Philbin's, general manager Jeff Ireland's and perhaps more. A culture is questioned. And rightly so. How did it reach this point? Is our addiction partly to blame? "Life is full of adversity," Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "Not everyone goes through a situation like this. But you have to be able to face it. The old adage, 'As many times as a horse knocks you off, you get back on.' That's the mentality I have. That's the mentality this team has." On the field, the Dolphins found normalcy, fed us again. They almost pulled a Houdini act, flipping a 15-0 hole in the second quarter to a 19-15 lead in the third. But Bobby Rainey's 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth was the difference, and Miami lost for the fifth time in six games. So a brutal slide continues. The Dolphins (4-5) missed a chance to earn a valuable victory to keep pace in their postseason chase. They gained the dubious distinction of losing to the Bucs, who had made an art of allowing success to elude them. Tests remain on and off the field. The New England Patriots hold a two-game lead in the AFC East, a three-game edge over the Dolphins. The New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers all could compete for wild-card spots. But what does it mean? After all the strange turns, ugly words, the curiosity to come, it's nave to think one result will wipe away a string of question marks. This issue is too complicated, unable to be contained within 100 yards. They played. We watched. We'll continue to wonder. Why did grown men behave this way? What's the end game? Where's the flaw, the gulf in common sense that allowed the Martin-Incognito saga to happen? "We're here to play football," Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said. "The distractions were external, not internal. We felt good coming into this game." "The Bucs came out and played a good game," Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes said. "They made more plays than we did. That's why they won. It was nothing to do with the stuff that's going on." Perhaps that's what makes this so strange, so frustrating. The Dolphins played again, existing within a bubble of their making. Martin and Incognito were elsewhere. The NFL will investigate, and everyone carries on toward the next game, the next test. Why not savor and enjoy? Usually, that's no problem. Tonight, though, the sausage was less satisfying. You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.
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