We have reached the point where the goalposts are beginning to move on Ryan Tannehill.
We’re beyond wondering if he’s a competent, dependable NFL quarterback. He has already proved it.
He has thrown for big yards. He has led comeback drives. He has won in the snow.
And he has outdueled Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger — just this season.
So how about this for the next challenge: Go out and beat arguably the best quarterback of all time in Tom Brady.
“He has every tool you want in a quarterback,” Tannehill said Wednesday of Brady. “He’s constantly making plays.”
Despite that, Tannehill disputed the notion that Sunday’s game at Sun Life Stadium will be a one-on-one showdown against Brady, instead saying it was a team thing. And to a degree, he’s correct. But the only constants in the Patriots’ 13-year run of excellence are Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
And the only Dolphins constant during that same time: instability at quarterback.
Tannehill is winless in his young career against Brady and has been outplayed in all three games. Head-to-head, Brady has more passing yards (638 to 613), a better completion percentage (60 percent to 52 percent), has thrown more touchdowns (4-2) and fewer interceptions (2-3).
But Tannehill appeared to close the gap in their previous meeting — a 27-17 Patriots win — and is seen by many in New England as an ascendant talent.
“You saw it last year, you see it this year,” Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib said. “That’s how we view him, as a quarterback on the up-rise. He improves every week.”
Said Belichick: “He’s a good football player. He’s poised, he’s smart.”
He keeps the Dolphins in every game, even if they ultimately lose. In Tannehill’s 29 pro starts, the Dolphins have lost by more than a touchdown just six times. (Two of those six blowouts have come at the hands of the Patriots.)
By comparison, the Jets’ Geno Smith has lost six games by more than a touchdown — in just 13 starts.
A win Sunday against Brady not only would boost the Dolphins’ playoff prospects, but it also would cap the best three-game stretch of Tannehill’s young career, assuming he plays well.
The Dolphins have won both games in December, and Tannehill has thrown five touchdowns to just two interceptions this month.
The only time in his career that he has strung together three consecutive games with more touchdown passes than interceptions was last December. He didn’t win all three of those games, however. He could do both Sunday.
But more than anything, Tannehill’s intangibles have impressed Belichick.
The future Hall of Famer on Wednesday praised Tannehill’s awareness at the line of scrimmage, his command of the team, his arm strength and his ability to see downfield.
That was all on display in Sunday’s wild win in Pittsburgh. Tannehill’s touchdown drive, capped by a 12-yard pass to Charles Clay, had a lot of help. Daniel Thomas’ 55-yard run is Exhibit A.
And yet, Tannehill crossed the bar by which quarterbacks are judged: He produced a game-winning touchdown drive when his team needed one.
“I’m sure that as he gains experience, any guy in their second year is going to be better than their first year and is going to continue to learn and grow and become a better player in their third, fourth and right on down the line years,” Belichick said. “I’ve seen plenty of experienced quarterbacks get better every year.”
Said Tannehill: “I’m still developing. I don’t think I’m done by any stretch of the imagination.”