Dan Marino is in a class all by himself, and rightfully so.
But very quietly, Ryan Tannehill has put himself close to joining what for decades has been a club of one.
Marino is the only quarterback in the Dolphins’ 48-year history to throw for at least 4,000 yards (he did it six times). Bob Griese never did it. Neither did Jay Fielder or Chad Pennington.
But Tannehill will join him even with four below-average starts to finish the season.
Tannehill, it might surprise you to learn, ranks 11th in the NFL with 3,115 passing yards — putting him ahead of past Super Bowl MVPs (and bonafide stars) Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers.
And so, if Tannehill can average just 222 passing yards over the last four weeks of the season — beginning Sunday in Pittsburgh — he’ll make history.
The Dolphins will probably need everyone of them — if not more — if they want to snap a five-year playoff drought.
In Miami’s six wins, Tannehill has averaged 272 passing yards. In the six losses, he’s thrown for just 247. Meaning: Passing yards are hugely important, whether Tannehill wants to admit it or not.
“I don’t think passing yardage is a good stat; I think wins are a good stat,” Tannehill said this week. “If we win but throw for 65 yards, that’s a great day to me. If we lose and throw for 400 that’s a bad day. Whatever it takes to win.”
Problem is, with the way the Dolphins have run the ball this year — or more accurately, the way they haven’t — Tannehill has had to carry his team.
The Dolphins, whose ground attack (89 yards per game) ranks 25th in football, haven’t won a game in 2013 in which he’s thrown for fewer than 200 yards.
“He’s clearly playing better,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, when asked to compare Tannehill’s first and second years as a professional. “I think you can look on a piece of paper and say he is playing better, but overall I just think he has more command of the offense. I think his decision making has improved.
“This is an important game for everybody, our entire football team,” Philbin added. “It’s going to be important for us to play our best football here Sunday. He’s part of that, but yeah, I think he is making nice progress.”
Philbin said Friday that Tannehill throwing for 4,000 yards — even with a series of rule changes intended to pump up offensive production — would be “great.”
Dolphins tackle Tyson Clabo went a step further.
“I don’t think it’s easy to throw for 4,000 yards, no matter what the rules are,” Clabo said. “I think that there’s some really good quarterbacks in this league right now, so it doesn’t look like it’s hard. These guys who are throwing for 4,000 yards are really, really good.”
What sets Tannehill apart from some other NFL quarterbacks, Clabo said, is that his demeanor is so consistent, no matter the situation.
Whether ahead or behind, early in the game or late, he has the same look on his face.
Clabo added: “It’s kind of calming. He just has a look of, he’s going to get it done, and he usually does. ... We keep looking at him and he’s this guy who’s obviously the guy who’s going to get us where we need to go.”
Where the Dolphins need to go — and win — next is Pittsburgh, where Tannehill might play in snow for the first time in his career.
There’s a 70 percent chance of precipitation and temperatures are not expected to eclipse 30 degrees — which, for life-long South Floridians, is a recipe for the white stuff.
He’ll also face a blizzard of emotion from a rabid Pittsburgh fan base in what Ben Roethlisberger has already dubbed a playoff game.
While a loss wouldn’t formally eliminate either team from postseason consideration, it would come awfully close.
“That’s our mindset,” Tannehill said. “We’re in a win or be home in January and we want to keep playing; we want to win.”• Dimitri Patterson, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury, has a chance to play Sunday. He is a game-time decision.