The Miami Dolphins have been making national headlines the past two weeks, but for all the wrong reasons.
The Dolphins find themselves at 4-4 on the season and in the thick of the AFC wild-card race. Yet the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga has been all the talk in the national media.
What's wrong with the locker room culture in Miami? Why is there a lack of leadership in Miami? Who do you support? Is this a distraction? These are all questions the Dolphins players have had to answer the past 11 days, not one pertaining to Monday Night Football against the Bucs or the wild-card race.
Criticism has been abundant for everyone in the Dolphins organization over this ugly situation. It begs the question, how can the Dolphins escape this scandal or, at the very least, speed up the healing process so that the talk returns to the field rather than the locker room?
As Al Davis famously said, "Just win, baby."
The players in the Dolphins organization should have deflected all questions regarding the scandal to the coach or GM. Instead, they chose to take a side, and the players overwhelmingly sided with Incognito. A stance that seems to have perplexed many in the media and in a sense poured gasoline on the media firestorm raining down on the Dolphins.
The fact is there is Incognito's story, there is Martin's story, and the truth is in the middle. Don't tell many of the national media that.
Fair or foul, Incognito already has been judged and the Dolphins look bad in the public eye for supporting him over Martin.
The professional sports world is no stranger to scandal and controversy.
In 2001, Ray Lewis was named Super Bowl MVP, a year before he was arrested and charged with murder. Lewis plead guilty to obstruction of justice and was public enemy No. 1 to the sports media.
Today, Lewis is one of the most beloved players to ever play the game and is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. Lewis' on-field production was so great that it could not be ignored by the media. This allowed the sports community to see Lewis for the exceptional player he always was. Combine that with Lewis rehabilitating his image and you have a one-way ticket to Canton.
Vick at one time appeared to be a lock for the Hall of Fame. He was the highest paid player in the NFL and the one player defensive coordinators had nightmares about.
After serving a 23-month sentence, filing for bankruptcy and losing all endorsements, many wondered if Vick would ever play football again.
The Philadelphia Eagles took a chance on Vick, who lead them to the playoffs in 2011 after having his best season to date and winning NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Animal-rights activist will likely never forgive Vick, but it took the media and the fans less than 12 games to move on from Vick's mistakes.
Several media outlets questioned whether Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's Super Bowl victories were tarnished. They weren't. Brady and the boys continue their dominance on the field and the Patriots organization is looked at with admiration around the NFL.
"The Patriot Way," as it has been referred to by many sports journalist, is the ideal way to run a professional sports organization. Spygate, which resulted in fines and a lost draft pick, is a distant memory because the Patriots are good enough to outplay the scandal.
Will the Incognito/Martin scandal fade away quicker if the Dolphins make the playoffs?
It has been said before that winning fixes everything. While that is not always true, it certainly doesn't hurt. Whether it's on- or off-the-field issues, the NFL media and fanbase has proven to be very forgiving of winners.
Winning often and avoiding future trouble has historically been the quickest path to redemption in the sports community.
Ryan Tannehill has been criticized for not being a leader on the field or in the locker room. It's been said that Joe Philbin has lost control of his team. I could make a strong argument for both of these claims.
I can also argue that if the Dolphins perform above their on-field expectations and climb back into the playoff picture, then this scandal will fade quicker from the national spotlight.
Incognito and Martin are not currently with the team. The investigation and any legal action will run its course and the men that still remain in the organization will bear the brunt of it.
Those still with the team will be criticized and monitored for the actions of those no longer with the team—unless they win, and win now.
At 4-4, the Dolphins are in the thick of the AFC wild-card race. If they are able to weather the storm and piece together a successful season, they will be admired for what they accomplished in the face of adversity rather then criticized for the scandal they failed to prevent.
In a sense, Miami must take a page out of their rival to the north's playbook and do things "the Patriot Way."
The road to redemption for the 'Fins starts Monday night at Tampa Bay.