MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open the season with a hurricane-imposed bye.
Their opener scheduled for Sunday was postponed by the NFL until Nov. 19 because of Hurricane Irma.
“This is bigger than football,” Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston said. “I just want everyone to be safe. Football is not important right now.”
Switching the game to Week 11 was possible because that had been a bye week for both teams. NFL officials earlier announced the game would not be played in Miami this week.
The league also decided against playing this weekend at a neutral site, perhaps in Pennsylvania.
“I just don’t think that’s feasible, whether I would have liked that or not,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “I don’t think you could ask all the people who would have had to travel on both teams to say: ‘Hey, leave your families in the hurricane and let’s go play a game in Pittsburgh.’ I just don’t think that’s feasible.”
Irma is forecast to threaten much of Florida beginning this weekend.
“The No. 1 thing any of us should be thinking about is the safety of everyone involved,” Koetter said. “It’s a natural disaster. Football takes a back seat to all of that.”
Still, the scheduling situation prompted extensive discussions and speculation before the decision. Both teams resisted switching to Nov. 19 because it means playing the entire season without a break.
“To go 16 straight weeks without a break is really tough,” Bucs defensive end Chris Baker said.
“Our guys kind of need that bye week to get healthy and kind of push through the second half of the season,” Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler said Tuesday. “It’s not an ideal situation not to have a bye.”
Koetter tried to downplay the potential impact of playing 16 weeks in a row.
“This isn’t going to affect us one bit until we get to Week 11,” he said. “If we’re 10-0 or 0-10, we’d be feeling different about ourselves. If we were 10-0, we’d probably want to keep playing. If we’re 0-10, I probably won’t be standing here.”
Maybe it won’t matter. The Dolphins went without a bye in 1992, which they gave up when their scheduled opener was postponed because of Hurricane Andrew. That’s the last Miami team to reach the AFC championship game.
The 2017 Dolphins will now open Sept. 17 at the Los Angeles Chargers, and their first home game won’t be until Oct. 8 against the Tennessee Titans. Their game at London on Oct. 1 against New Orleans is designated a home game for Miami.
Tampa Bay will open Sept. 17 at home against the Chicago Bears.
The Buccaneers practiced Wednesday. But the Dolphins canceled practice, deflated their indoor practice bubble, and gave players the rest of the week off to prepare for the hurricane.
“A lot these guys have a lot on their plate: moving their families, and you’ve got people coming in, and your house and your cars,” said Cutler, who joined the team a month ago.
“I’m one of the few lucky ones. I’ve got a car here and a bag full of clothes, and that’s kind of it. But you’ve got a lot of guys in that locker room that are going through a lot of things in their head, and we’ve got to be mindful of that and help them any way possible.”
The menace of Irma and the postponement of the opener are the latest setbacks for the Dolphins. They endured an injury-filled training camp that included the loss of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who required season-ending knee surgery.
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