Ryan Tannehill, the Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback and hope of their future, looked exactly how you would expect Friday in his first NFL start – a 23-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Some good, some wince-inducing.
But as Friday evening showed, the competition he faces isn’t exactly fierce.
Matt Moore, playing against reserves, was no better.
On a night that was supposed to bring clarity to the Dolphins’ quarterback derby, only one thing became clear: The Dolphins face far bigger issues than deciding whom to start under center.
As uneven as he was, Tannehill was the Dolphins’ best player for much of the night.
The offensive line didn’t block. The running game was not existent. The defense? A mess.
And remember: the regular season is three weeks away.
“Offensively and defensively we’re not playing well enough to win,” coach Joe Philbin said. “That’s very evident.”
Miami’s defense — particularly its first-string unit that struggled the week before — was a sieve. The Dolphins surrendered 295 yards in the first half alone, and 390 overall.
As for the offense, with Tannehill playing the entire first half? Its quarterback had more yards passing (100) at intermission than the entire team had in total offense (94).
Tannehill, who completed 11 of 23 passes, was sacked three times, had at least three passes tipped at the line of scrimmage and several others dropped. He spent much of the night trying not to get hurt.
OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT
The night’s tone was set on Miami’s opening drive.
Even after Carolina jumped offsides on the first play, the Dolphins managed just three yards in the next three snaps.
Tight end Anthony Fasano dropped a pass on the Dolphins’ next possession, leading to a second of four first-half three-and-outs.
“We couldn’t get rolling in those first two series,” Tannehill said. “We had a chance to make plays. It’s tough to get going when you can’t get that first first down.”
The Panthers, led by star quarterback Cam Newton, fared far better.
They scored on each of their first two possessions — the first a field goal, the second a 2-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart.
Newton torched the Miami defense on 8 of 11 passes for 119 yards and finished his night with a 9-yard touchdown strike to DeAngelo Williams.
The Dolphins, it should be noted, were playing without three defensive starters and one key backup. But their entire defensive backfield was active, and had trouble even staying in the same zip code as Carolina’s receivers.
As for Vontae Davis, his fall from grace continued. He again did not start, and might have even lost his grip on the nickel cornerback job. After a scuffle with longtime nemesis Steve Smith resulted in a personal foul, the Dolphins replaced Davis with Nolan Carroll. The former first-round pick only returned when Miami put in its second-string defense.
“We haven’t stopped anyone yet,” Tannehill said. “We haven’t tackled well. No pass rush.”
The evening’s primary focus, as always, was the quarterback situation.
Philbin said a decision on when to name a starter has not been made. His staff would have an easier time evaluating Tannehill if he had any help Friday.
Lamar Miller was the team’s leading rusher at halftime — with one carry for five yards.
Miami didn’t get its initial first down until the final play of the opening quarter, a 12-yard completion to Davone Bess.
That seemed to give the offense a spark — and led to Miami’s only points of the first half. Tannehill directed a 15-play, 71-yard drive, capped by a one-yard touchdown plunge by Daniel Thomas.
On the drive, Tannehill completed seven of 11 passes — to six receivers — for 67 yards, showing command of Miami’s hurry-up offense.
Moore, meanwhile, did little to stand out, even though he was playing against Carolina’s reserves. He misfired on five of his first six passes and eight of his first 11. Moore finished the night 5 for 15 for 57 yards.
The Dolphins only moved the ball in the third quarter due to a series of Carolina miscues, setting up a field goal Dan Carpenter banged through from 52 yards.
Pat Devlin, now Miami’s third-string quarterback, led a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter and had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds, but threw an interception in the end zone that ended hopes of a comeback.
“We’re better than what we’ve shown,” Moore said. “We should be a little concerned. We have a lot of stuff to work on.”