A harassment scandal and a loss to a winless team can have that effect.
Already staggered by a scandal that prompted an NFL investigation, the Dolphins must now try to bounce back from their worst loss of the season.
Rather than taking out their frustrations of recent days on the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Dolphins came out flat Monday night, dug a 15-0 hole and lost 22-19.
The loss left the Dolphins at 4-5, with the five defeats coming in the past six games. Fed-up fans took the latest loss hard, and many said owner Stephen Ross should fire everyone, himself included.
"I'm happy fans are passionate," second-year coach Joe Philbin said Tuesday. "We have a loyal fan base. We all want the same thing. We want to have a team that is consistently competing for championships and represents the organization the right way on and off the field."
With the harassment case involving offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito likely to remain unresolved for at least a couple of weeks, Philbin will try to salvage the season beginning Sunday at home against San Diego.
Philbin, now 11-14 at Miami, won a vote of confidence before Monday's game from Ross, but that could change depending on the findings of Ted Wells, the NFL special investigator.
Wells will meet this week with Martin, who is with his family in Los Angeles and receiving counseling for emotional issues.
Ross also plans to meet with Martin. That meeting was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but at the NFL's request it has been postponed until after Wells gets together with Martin.
The second-year pro suddenly left the team two weeks ago, and his attorney has alleged Martin was harassed daily by teammates, including Incognito, who has been suspended.
On Monday, Ross announced the formation of two committees to examine the Dolphins' locker room culture. In recent days, players have been virtually unanimous in saying it doesn't need to be changed.
"I think it was more a situation between a couple of guys," linebacker Philip Wheeler said Tuesday. "I don't think it was a locker room situation."
"I've had a great time in this locker room so far," fourth-year defensive lineman Jared Odrick said, "and I think most people see it the same."
The case inspired a national debate about workplace bullying, attracting a throng of media again Tuesday. The team, however, declined to blame the case on its latest loss.
"Yes, we faced a lot of distractions," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said, "but leading up to this game, the last few days I've had a good feeling that the guys were ready to play."
A bigger factor might have been the absence of two starters in a line that was already lousy. At Tampa, the Dolphins netted a franchise record-low 2 yards in 14 carries.
That's 5.1 inches per carry. At that rate, they would need 71 carries to get a first down.
"Five inches?" offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "That's disheartening."
Nate Garner whiffed on several blocks filling in for Incognito at left guard, and no one on the line seemed to get any push downfield.
"Not a good job by us," right tackle Tyson Clabo said.
There are plenty of other issues. Run defense is supposedly the team's strength, but Miami allowed 140 yards on the ground against the injury-riddled Bucs, whose fourth-string running back scored the decisive touchdown. The Dolphins have sunk to 25th in the league in run defense.
Tannehill played well but misfired on a long pass to an open Mike Wallace, who was targeted seven times and totaled 15 yards.
The $60 million receiver still has only one touchdown this season. First-round pick Dion Jordan was also a non-factor again at linebacker, playing only nine snaps on defense.
While the scoreboard in Tampa argued otherwise, Tannehill said the harassment case unified the team. He predicted the Dolphins will yet bounce back.
"I feel like we've really come together over this adversity," he said. "This could've gone two ways: Guys could split up and take sides by dividing the locker room, or we could come together. ...
"Life is full of adversity. Not everyone deals with a situation like this, but you have to be able to face it. The old adage: As many times a horse knocks you off, you get back on. That's the mentality I have, and that's the mentality I think this team has, and we've just got to keep going."
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