The Dolphins won on Sunday. And the victory, imperfect and filled with mistakes, was nonetheless a life-giving gulp of fresh air inhaled by a team that had been choking on scandal and bad news for several weeks.
Dolphins 20. Chargers 16.
The Dolphins remain alive in a chase for a wild-card playoff spot. They are surviving despite the worst scandal in team history, a loss to previously winless Tampa Bay, an NFL investigation, not one but two committees being convened and banners calling for the general managers firing circling Sun Life Stadium.
They have won two of three games since Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team and the NFL harassment scandal broke.
Their season, on a ventilator last week, is valiantly fighting for life.
Theres nothing better than a win, offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said as he stood in the same spot he stood a few weeks ago when his biggest worry was merely giving up late-game sacks.
Were fighting through this thing from Day 1. Its not a relief or surprise. We expect to win when we play. It doesnt always work out that way, but [Sunday] it did.
A win is a great deodorant for the same Dolphins locker room that pundits say reeks of racism. It offers a respite. A break.
This is like one of the only things we have to escape everything else, receiver Mike Wallace said.
So the Dolphins are doing themselves proud. They are managing in the face of adversity the only way they know how by playing football games and winning when they can.
But that doesnt mean the tough times are over.
Starting Monday and through the middle of this week, NFL investigator Ted Wells will be questioning players, coaches and others to collect evidence and determine the legitimacy of Martins harassment claims.
The next few days will put offensive line coach Jim Turner and center Mike Pouncey in particular in the crosshairs, the Miami Herald has learned.
Turner is a person of particular interest because he was the direct supervisor over Martin, Richie Incognito and other players who allegedly engaged in the mistreatment alleged by Martin.
And Pouncey is under the microscope because, a source says, he was at the very least a witness to the mistreatment Martin and his legal team are alleging. It is unclear if Pouncey actually took part in the alleged mistreatment as well.
None of that is good news for anyone involved.
Monday was supposed to be something of a day off for Dolphins players. They were only assigned a weightlifting session. There was no practice scheduled.
But, instead, several players will be answering questions from Wells. And coaches will not be exempt either, although it is unclear when Wells will meet with them.
The Dolphins usually turn the page on the last game every Monday. Coaches want the team looking toward the next opponent. But for the next couple of days, those players so indoctrinated to look to the next game also will be looking back at every word theyve uttered the past 19 months.
Its comical, receiver Brian Hartline said. Youre thinking back to see if you used a You suck or something. I dont even know if I can say that. I think theres a perception that this is a devil locker room, but I think were just a bunch of guys having a good time and really enjoying each other like a family.
Its All on the line
Its fascinating that this investigation, like much of this season, will revolve around the offensive line.
The Dolphins offensive line is the center of the universe for the team and the NFL now. Before the scandal, the offensive line could be directly or indirectly blamed for losses against Baltimore and Buffalo. And after the Martin fiasco occurred, the offensive line was again under hot lights of uncomfortable scrutiny.
So Sunday was no different in that all eyes were on the offensive line. But on this afternoon the Dolphins offensive line was a place for heroism and the height of professionalism.
Thats because Dolphins coaches who believed Pouncey would be their starting center against San Diego found out the player wasnt well enough from an unspecified illness to be released from a local hospital and play.
And thats when those coaches turned to Sam Brenner, a rookie who spent the previous two months on the practice squad.
Brenner, undrafted after finishing his career at Utah, started at left guard so that replacement left guard Nate Garner could move over one spot and replace Pouncey at center.
Well, what seemed to promise an almost certain disaster was in truth manageable. Brenner allowed one of the teams four sacks, but on a line that has yielded 41 this season, that is a bearable footnote.
The running game feasted with a 5.5-yard-per-carry average against the Chargers, quarterback Ryan Tannehill mostly had enough time to throw, and he survived the game unharmed.
All things considered, a good day.
Afterward, the new guy happily talked about how the other guys had given him a nickname.
The vets have taken to saying my name now, Brenner said with a smile. Its my nickname. They say my last name, but its the way they say it, BRENNER! Really loud.
I think it has a nice ring to it, right?
After a season-sustaining win? No doubt.