TAMPA — The night began with Dolphins owner Steve Ross saying, in a voice so tired it barely entered the room, how the recent events were, "appalling," and how, "This couldn't have been a worse nightmare."
And then the nightmare got worse.
And then a football was kicked in the air, rather than allegations of bullying or locker-room culture. And even back in a climate they controlled, against a winless Tampa Bay team, on national television, the nightmare didn't let up in the Dolphins' 22-19 loss.
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What was Monday's story? What did you want it to be? Ross all but pushing General Manager Jeff Ireland out the door? Ross being the first with an insider's information to side departed Jonathan Martin over suspended Richie Incognito?
Or maybe the story the game itself. The Dolphins fell behind 15-0, saw one good, late chance go away when linebacker Phillip Wheeler got a dumb penalty to give Tampa Bay another series and then quarterback Ryan Tannehill sacked on two plays before throwing a Hail Mary interception.
And they had two yards rushing. Two. Dos. Zwei. The fewest yards rushing by a NFL team in a game since 2007.
And so our long, national nightmare continues.
Winning a game was the only way for the Dolphins to put a measure of perfume on this stench of a stretch. They had a chance to tie the New York Jets in the AFC East at 5-4 and grow a measure of hope for the season.
Instead, it was Tampa Bay fans celebrating their first win of the season, embracing the idea they won't go through a winless season. They didn't know how to win, as their mistakes all game showed. But they still beat the Dolphins.
So the ugliest chapter in Dolphins history continues with an ugly loss. The night ended with a cannon going off from a pirate ship as Tampa fans celebrated.
It began in a different manner. For the first time, someone with inside knowledge of what happened took sides in this affair. Ross sided with coach Joe Philbin over Ireland and troubled Jonathan Martin over troubled Richie Incognito.
"In the past two weeks, our primary concern has been for Jonathan Martin," he said.
Ross said he'll meet with Martin on Wednesday. Asked if he'll meet with Richie Incognito, Ross didn't commit to an answer either way. Asked again, he said reluctantly, and barely audibly, he would meet with Incognito.
Does he know something? Or was he just basing this on use on Incognito's use of the n-word?
The more obvious issue was Ross said by his choice of words that the firing of Ireland is a coming certainty. Ireland wasn't at the news conference attended by other high-ranking team officials. And Ross mentioned him just once, in passing.
He went out of his way to applaud Philbin, though. "Joe is a man of high character who routinely communicates to our players expectations of behavior and he espouses the values that we stand behind,'' Ross said.
What does Ross know? Ireland isn't the most popular personality. On Monday, players' union chief DeMaurice Smith told ESPN before the game, "Certainly we know the history of this GM with other issues."
But this is a risky game by Ross, separating one decision-maker from another, like clean and dirty laundry. The last time Ross did it he stuck with Ireland and fired coach Tony Sparano.
The New York Jets showed this year it's possible to hire a good general manager and retain the coach. But most teams typically allow the incoming general manager to find a coach who fits his philosophy.
Maybe Ross backed Philbin because there remains half-a-season to play. Maybe he believes in him this deeply. Maybe the owner just doesn't really know how to assemble a winning team, which is what it looks like four years into his era.
But football is football and this Martin affair is a franchise worst nightmare. This is such an ugly issue two committees were formed by Ross. One was composed of team insiders to compose a new code of conduct.
The intent of these committees is public-relations window dressing. Great franchises don't need guests to affect policy. But look at the state of the Dolphins today:
An NFL investigation has begun inside the team. A committee of outsiders is coming. The egg timer is ticking on the general manager's reign.
Who says a nightmare can't grow worse?