DAVIE — The Miami Dolphins underwent interrogation Monday by an NFL special investigator, although they had already addressed one pressing question: Would they fold on the season? Answer: No.
A defeat Sunday would have accelerated the Dolphins’ recent tailspin. Instead, they beat San Diego 20-16 to improve to 5-5 and remain in the race for an AFC wild-card berth.
“It’s going to come down to a tight finish and we have to win,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “We want to win all the rest of our games.”
The Dolphins will try to do so while ensnared in the biggest scandal in franchise history. Martin left the team three weeks ago and alleges he was harassed daily by teammates, including Incognito.
On Friday, Martin spent nearly seven hours talking with Wells. Before the attorney began his interviews with other players, he released a statement — his first public comments about the investigation.
“We look forward to meeting with Dolphins players, coaches and staff in order to get the facts and prepare a thorough and fair report,” Wells said. “The Dolphins organization has been very helpful in arranging the interviews and urging their personnel to cooperate with the investigation. We have asked all Dolphins personnel to respect the process and avoid commenting on the investigation.”
Wells was appointed Nov. 6 by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to investigate the Dolphins workplace and prepare a report that will be made public.
“As we’ve said from Day One, we’re going to fully cooperate,” coach Joe Philbin said. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said he didn’t expect the investigation to significantly affect preparations for Sunday’s home game against Carolina.
“We’ve been told they’re going to do everything they can to not disrupt the normal flow of the week,” Coyle said. “I don’t think it’s going to have much of an impact.”
Philbin agreed. “We’re sticking to the schedule,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”
As tackle Tyson Clabo noted, the Dolphins are 2-1 since Martin left the team and the scandal began to unfold.
Eight wins might be enough to make the playoffs in the parity-filled AFC and the Dolphins are tied with the Jets in the race for the sixth and final playoff spot. The teams play each other Dec. 1 and Dec. 29.
The Dolphins are at .500 even though they’ve been outgained by 571 yards this year and they were hardly dominant against the Chargers, who totaled 435 yards but scored only one touchdown.
Miami won despite missing 60 percent of its offensive line, including center Mike Pouncey, who was out sick. Replacements included undrafted rookie Sam Brenner, who won praise from teammates in his NFL debut. The victory inspired an emotional postgame locker-room pep talk by the stoic Philbin.
“The focus and the resiliency of you guys, all right, this week amid all that’s going on — unbelievable,” Philbin shouted. “Fantastic job by you guys hanging tough, sticking together and working at your job, being a pro, coming to work every day regardless of the circumstances.”
Receiver Mike Wallace conceded the game seemed like a refuge amid the recent media scrutiny.
“This is one of the only things we have to escape everything else — to just go out and play a football game,” Wallace said. “Any time you can get a win it makes everyone around you feel good – and even the people who are not around you.”
That might include the two fans sitting side by side Sunday who wore brown bags over their heads, one bearing a photo of Incognito, the other a photo of Martin.
Martin, a second-year pro from Stanford, has been with family in California undergoing counseling for emotional issues. He attended Stanford’s game Saturday at Southern Cal, watching from the sideline.
Incognito filed a grievance last week against the Dolphins seeking to rejoin the team. Revelations about their relationship struck a national nerve on the issue of locker room bullying and have even gone global. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana offered a reaction Monday from the Great Wall of China, where he was on a tour to promote football.
Montana said bullying was common in the NFL and said the locker room is a “fun, crazy place,” but added, “It’s a tough place, too, sometimes.”