TAMPA -- The most powerful man in the Dolphins organization used words such as “nightmare” and “appalling” and “embarrassment” to appropriately describe his team off the field over the past two weeks. And one can only wonder what words owner Stephen Ross might have used to describe his team’s work on the field Monday night.
A hapless, terrible, winless Tampa Bay, a team that has endured more drama than the Dolphins, handed it to Ross’s team at Raymond James Stadium.
Against that 0-8 team, the Dolphins not only looked ill-prepared but actually disinterested. The optimistic idea that controversy and tough times might galvanize the Dolphins looked immediately ridiculous.
The Dolphins instead delivered the season’s most discouraging game.
And that game showed how far this team has to go before it will ever truly matter again. It was a prime-time demonstration of how these Dolphins simply lack something that separates mediocre from any good.
Sure, the Dolphins rallied late and the Buccaneers did what losing teams do, which is to say they suffered turnovers and collected penalties and shanked a punt to set up Miami with good field position.
So the Dolphins made it close, losing only 22-19. But here’s the thing: This opportunity for vindication turned into clear indictment.
It’s not that the Dolphins should have rolled the Bucs, because margin of victory is not what matters here. But victory does matter, and the Dolphins failed there. What matters is the Dolphins played much of this game with no life, no spark, no emotion. And that matters also.
The Dolphins played this game kind of like they came off a bye week against Buffalo. Kind of like they looked the entire game against New Orleans in what was supposed to be a shootout of undefeated opponents.
This team, clearly talented and often more talented than the opponent, doesn’t often play up to its talent level. And so we lost an opportunity to deodorize the stench of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga.
The simple truth is anyone paying attention to these Dolphins understands something fundamental is wrong. Something is amiss, and the controversy of the past two weeks and this game’s maddening moments are just the tip of the glacier-sized iceberg.
This organization has issues.
To hear Ross speak early Monday evening, I could see he knows something is wrong. But he has no earthly idea what.
Ross knows something has to change in this organization. And I’m told he is definitely going to make changes.
But the truth is that after all is said and done this season, including the NFL investigation and the final seven games, the most likely change will be the removal of general manager Jeff Ireland and perhaps a couple of assistants.
Indeed, barring a meltdown by this team, Ross seems set to salvage coach Joe Philbin and put weight behind him that he eventually will fix the dysfunction.
All one had to do was listen to Ross talk of Philbin to understand this:
“Joe is a man of high character who routinely communicates to our players our expectations of behavior, and he espouses the values that we stand behind,” Ross said. “He genuinely cares about our players — you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice.”
In that same news conference, Ross barely mentioned Ireland. The general manager wasn’t even mentioned in the owner’s opening statement. It looks bad for Ireland.
Word of advice: Ross should stop looking into Philbin’s eyes and look instead to the football field where the Dolphins look rudderless.
More advice: Instead of listening to his coach’s voice, he should listen to the fans who are saying, “If you are going to start over, Mr. Ross, start over from the ground up. Don’t offer half solutions.”
If Ross turns Ireland into his scapegoat after this season, he would be making basically the same mistake he made last year. Last year, Ross fired Tony Sparano and kept the general manager who had worked with the coach since 2008.
So Ross decided it was Sparano’s fault the Dolphins were failing and not Ireland’s. Now, if he lowers the guillotine on Ireland but spares Philbin and his staff, once again the Dolphins would be an uneven organization.
By that I mean the Dolphins wouldn’t be hiring a general manager and coach who are in synch. They would be hiring a general manager who has to accept the current coach, just like this time around they hired a coach who could accept working with Ireland.
And what might that mean? The general manager equivalent of Jeff Fisher or other experienced personnel men will decline the chance to come to Miami.
Ross on Monday spoke of two committees that will advise him on what to do next. I’m not on that committee. But here’s my advice:
Ask questions, sir.
Ask why Dion Jordan, your third overall draft pick, plays only sparingly.
Why your two high-round rookie corners don’t play but you trust Nolan Carroll, who the last coaching staff figured out was not good enough but is playing despite being not good enough.
Ask why this defense misses so many tackles. Still.
Ask why the offense has no identity. I mean, seriously, what are the Dolphins really good at doing offensively?
Do they use possession passing really well? No.
Do they run the football really well and stick with it? No.
Do they spread defenses out and use their deep threat Mike Wallace to strike fear? Well, that was the plan. But unfortunately, it was Ireland’s plan.
And the coaching staff apparently didn’t get the memo.
About the Dolphins coaching staff: Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman seemed out of tricks by the middle of the first half. His team was down 15-0 and the Bucs had figured out the Miami snap count, figured out your love of slant routes, and figured out your love of the wide receiver screen.
This is a terrible time for the Dolphins. And Ross seems prepared to address the terrible as well as possible. The hope is he doesn’t settle for incomplete fixes.