Philbin could be fine. He could be Teflon Joe. He could be the safest person with power inside the Dolphins organization, because Philbin is the man owner Stephen Ross picked to be one of the leaders of his franchise. Philbin was Ross' choice to be the next Don Shula. Ross will not want to admit that he made a mistake, if indeed it turns out that he did.
But at some point during the National Football League's investigation into a uniquely ugly, complex situation, Philbin will have to answer some dicey, uncomfortable questions about the culture he set up for his team. How did such a funky dynamic develop between Incognito and Martin, in which Incognito was both tormentor and protector of Martin? How did no one in the locker room notice or care that over the course of a year and a half, Martin became distressed? How did no assistant coach, trainer or equipment manager pick up on the problem and bring it to Philbin's attention?
How did Philbin not know something was going on? And if he did know and didn't act -- or, even worse, if he encouraged Incognito's behavior in the first place -- what does that say about Philbin as a leader of men?
Teflon Joe? Maybe. Time will tell. But I'm not convinced when all is said and done that Philbin will survive.
The football ramifications for the Dolphins in this whole mess were on full display Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The winless Bucs manhandled the Dolphins for the first quarter and a half of the game. They were more aggressive at the line of scrimmage. They set the tempo. They took a 15-0 lead that would have been larger if the Bucs were a more talented, more disciplined, better coached operation and not a previously winless mess of their own.
To their credit, the Dolphins cut the lead to 15-7 by halftime and scored 12 unanswered points in the third quarter to take a 19-15 lead into the fourth. But the Dolphins allowed Tampa Bay to score on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that took nearly five minutes off the clock. Then, with the ball and needing a field goal to tie the score, Miami's offensive line gave up its only sacks of the game on consecutive plays that forced third-and-28 from the Miami 15-yard line.
On third down, quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw an incompletion. On fourth down, he threw an interception.
Game over. The Bucs won 22-19, while the Dolphins, who rushed for a franchise-low 2 yards, fell to 4-5 with San Diego coming to town in six days. After starting 3-0, the Dolphins have lost five of their past six games.
To a man after the game, the Miami players said the distractions of the previous week had no effect on their game. Philbin concurred. This was about execution, not preparation and certainly not distraction.
But the football ramifications are that the Dolphins most likely will be without two-fifths of their starting offensive line for the remainder of the season, which means Tannehill will continue to play under pressure and the Miami running game will continue to suffer.
Meanwhile, this story will continue to churn.
Before the game, Ross addressed the media for the first time since Martin left the team Oct. 28. He said he was "appalled" by some of the lurid details -- particularly a text message Incognito sent Martin last spring -- of the story. Ross called the situation a "nightmare" for the franchise, said very little about general manager Jeff Ireland and praised Philbin, but he said no one is above repercussions depending on what the NFL investigation finds.
Ross said he would meet with Martin in person at an undisclosed location Wednesday. When pressed, Ross said he likely would meet with Incognito at a later date.
And Ross said he is setting up a task force of former coaches and players to improve the culture within the Dolphins locker room. Among those who will serve: former Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy, Shula, Dan Marino, Jason Taylor and Curtis Martin.
"People ask me how much should a coach know? How much should you be aware of what's going on?" said Dungy, who was on hand along with many players from the Bucs' glory years for Warren Sapp's induction into the team's Ring of Honor. "You do have to count on your players, your leadership. I'm standing around a bunch of guys who made it happen for me. What I did is set the atmosphere on what my expectations are, but I counted on Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp to let me know. As a coach, you are kind of counting on that."
Dungy set the atmosphere and articulated his expectations. Did Philbin do that? Did he set an atmosphere where using the N-word is appropriate? Did he let a known goon become the unquestioned leader? Or did he really not know? And if he didn't know, why didn't he? Isn't that part of the job, too?
To me, the fact that Ross felt the need to ask two former head coaches to help improve the culture within the Dolphins locker room is a complete indictment of Philbin. That's part of Philbin's job, or it should be.
Clearly, the players have grown weary of the attention and the questions. Asked what he hopes will come out of the meeting between Ross and Martin, Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick said flatly: "A resolution. A resolution."
At some point, there will be that. Then we will know whether Ross determined the only head coach he has ever hired was part of the problem or will be part of the solution.