The scheduled Dolphins-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game will not be played Sunday in Miami because of the looming threat of Hurricane Irma, the NFL announced late Tuesday.
The league is considering options: playing the game in a neutral site or playing the game later in the season in Miami.
If it’s later in the season, it could be Nov. 19, when both the Dolphins and Buccaneers have a bye week. It also could be on Monday night if Irma either misses or just skirts Florida, limiting its damage, an NFL source said.
ESPN reports playing on the bye week is the more likely of the options. A decision is expected by Wednesday.
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The NFL released this statement: “Due to the potential impact of Hurricane Irma on South Florida, the Miami Dolphins home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium, will not be played in Miami on Sunday.
“In the interest of public safety in the light of the current state of emergency, the NFL, in consultation with state and local officials as well as both clubs, has decided that playing an NFL game in South Florida this week is not appropriate.
“The league will continue to examine other options, including playing the game this Sunday at a neutral site or in Miami later this season, and will provide and update on that decision as soon as possible.”
Several Dolphins players said Sunday they don’t like the idea of playing the game on Miami’s schedule bye week, because it would force them to play 16 consecutive weeks.
“It would be tough,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “It would be tough. Guys kind of need that bye week to get healthy and push through the second half of the season. This is latest bye week I ever had. It’s not an ideal situation not to have a bye for us.”
Said cornerback Byron Maxwell: “I don’t like that possibility, just being honest. I like my bye week. For the most part, your body needs it. Especially with the brutal NFL season. It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. If any way they can get the game this week, I would like that.”
Asked if would prefer to play somewhere else than not have a bye, Maxwell responded: “Yeah, just put the ball down. Let’s play. At same time, the fans are going to miss out on a home game. I like playing in front of this Miami crowd. That’s a bummer right there.”
Dolphins players privately held out hope that the league would not force them to surrender their bye. If the NFL is truly serious about player safety, one player said, they will find another place to play Sunday.
There are a number of relatively close options, if the NFL chooses to move the game. Four Southern cities have NFL stadiums that will be vacant Sunday: Jacksonville, Atlanta, Charlotte and New Orleans.
Hours before the league’s announcement, coach Adam Gase met with reporters Tuesday afternoon, and when it came to Hurricane Irma, he was just like the rest of us: without answers.
“As far as I know, we’re practicing like we’re playing a game somewhere some time this week,” Gase said. “[We’re] going to keep preparing as if we’re playing Sunday. When and where we really don’t care.”
Gase said the people who make up the team’s operations department are “doing what they’re supposed to do and that’s make preparations for every scenario that they can think of. I’d rather not hear about it. That’s what they get paid to do.”
The teams had hoped to play that game in Miami on Thursday or Friday, but the dire forecast plus the more pressing demands of first responders necessary to staff an NFL made that untenable.
The Dolphins are now assured to have the league’s most grueling start to a season. Even if they don’t play this weekend, they’re on the road for the next three — in Los Angeles, New York and London. They now have just two home games before Nov. 5.
Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.