TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't allow themselves to be drawn into conjecture about another team's problems. They have enough of their own to be concerned about.
Distractions ranging from the messy handling of the benching of quarterback Josh Freeman to an outbreak of MRSA infections in the locker room and speculation about coach Greg Schiano's job security have kept the winless Bucs (0-8) in the headlines all season long. Those troubles pale in comparison to what the Miami Dolphins are going through with the NFL examining accusations of misconduct within the team.
When the intrastate rivals get together for a nationally televised matchup Monday night, the spotlight will be on them for the wrong reasons.
One struggling team searching for its first win, the other trying to show they're not as dysfunctional as they've been portrayed to be with the league probing whether Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin was harassed or bullied by teammate Richie Incognito, who has been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.
"I'm 0-8. That's enough on my back," Tampa Bay offensive lineman Donald Penn said, declining to answer questions about the situation brewing in Miami, 280 miles to the south. "On Monday, when everybody lines up, distractions go out the window. ... That's just the way it is. Nobody cares about your problems when you get out there on that field."
The Dolphins (4-4) are coming off an overtime victory over the first-place Cincinnati Bengals that snapped a four-game skid and should have spawned hope for a strong second-half push. Instead, the Dolphins will roll into town with gaping holes on the left side of the offensive line where Martin, who's left the team, and Incognito usually line up.
Coach Joe Philbin believes the team has the resolve to "stick together and play well."
"I learned at a very young age that football is nothing but facing adversity and fighting through it and coming out on top," Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick said.
Forgive the Bucs for having a "been there, done that" mind-set about playing through adversity.
Tampa Bay has coped with the messy handling of the benching and subsequent release of Freeman that played out over the first month of the season, as well as three players being diagnosed with MRSA infections. The Bucs are 0-8 for the first time since 1985 and have dropped 13 of 14 games dating to last season.
"Nobody cares about what's going on. That's the reality of it. You've got to fight through it," Schiano said of the potential for off-field distractions to impact performance on the field.. "That's the job of the team and coach."
Five things to watch for as the Bucs seek their first victory and the Dolphins try to avoid falling below .500 again.
GLENNON'S IMPROVEMENT: Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is 0-5 since replacing Freeman, but is coming off his best performance as a pro. The Bucs blew a 21-0 lead before losing at Seattle 27-24 in overtime. Glennon didn't throw an interception for the third straight game and doesn't have a pick in his last 141 passing attempts. "He's does an excellent job in the pocket. He's courageous. He's done an excellent job protecting the football," Philbin noted.
SACKING TANNEHILL: Miami's Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 35 times, so protecting him is a key for the Dolphins. Tampa Bay's pass rush has been inconsistent. Despite sacking Seattle's Russell Wilson three times last week, the Bucs have had difficulty containing mobile quarterbacks.
LET'S RUN IT: Standing in for the injured Doug Martin, rookie Mike James rushed for 158 yards and threw a touchdown pass in his second start for the Bucs. Miami's second-year RB Lamar Miller also notched the first 100-yard game of his career, rushing for 105 in the team's win over Cincinnati.
LOOK OUT: Dolphins DE Cameron Wake forced a fumble and had three sacks last week, one of them for a game-winning safety in OT. Keeping him off Glennon's back figures to be one of the keys to Tampa Bay finally getting a victory.
HALFTIME: The Bucs will honor 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Warren Sapp by retiring his jersey and adding his name in the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. The 1999 NFL defensive player of the year also will receive his Hall of Fame ring at halftime.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org