You know when the Dolphins will truly have a chance to be something special? When this might finally be a steady playoff contender able to think about ending Miami’s long estrangement from the Super Bowl?
It will happen when performances like we saw from Ryan Tannehill on Sunday begin to be routine — expected — and not an aberrant cause of international celebration among pleasantly surprised Dolfans.
One great game doesn’t anoint Tannehill’s future any more than one bad performance should kick the legs out from under it. Week-in, week-out reliability is what the club needs from its young quarterback. He must find that. He found a higher plane Sunday in London, now he must consistently stay there to begin to lift this franchise and make sure last week’s silliness over his starter’s status doesn’t have a chance to be repeated.
Tannehill had a surreal, fantastic first half at Wembley Stadium in London, completing 17 of 19 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns. That’s great for anybody, any time. “Good rhythm, good tempo, good command, very decisive,” coach Joe Philbin called it.
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The performance was decorated in nobility. Tannehill got to play the mentally tough leader who rose about the distraction caused by his own head coach and stuck it to anybody who doubted him.
But it also is fair to note Tannehill was pretty ordinary in Sunday’s second half (6 of 12, 74 yards and a tipped-pass interception), and that the opponent, sad Oakland, was buffooning and stinking to a 10th consecutive loss dating to last season.
Besides, Tannehill’s blockers kept him sack-free, Miami had 157 rushing yards, and his receivers got open, made great catches and avoided drops. When a QB has all of that going on and a lousy opponent, well, he should have a great game. The stats should be gaudy.
Philbin on Monday, back in the States, was asked half-kiddingly if Tannehill is still the starter.
Taciturn Joe eschewed frivolity.
“If and when we make a position change at any position,” he replied, maddeningly, “we would certainly inform the players then let [the media] know about it as well.”
Meanwhile CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora reported Sunday of a “fraying relationship” between Philbin and Dolphins front-office executive Dawn Aponte. Philbin is portrayed as having upset his bosses with his handling of the Tannehill situation last week. Aponte is portrayed as angling behind-scenes to replace Philbin with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh should he become available after the season.
My take: Philbin saves his job by making the playoffs, which means, ironically, the best chance he has is more games like Sunday’s from the very quarterback he didn’t seem very committed to last week. Strange situation, but why wouldn’t it be? It’s the Dolphins!
This much is simple. Philbin’s and Tannehill’s futures will enjoy a hardening foundation with victories and be called into question with losses. You know how the ebullience of the Patriots opener was erased with consecutive losses? See how long the jolly-good feeling of the London game lasts if, after the bye, Miami loses to Green Bay and Chicago back to back.
So much is on Tannehill. But, as Sunday showed, he has ample help now.
The receivers seemed to feed off his accuracy. That’s the thing about success. It is symbiotic. It is (pun intended) catching.
“The way the receivers played, they were working as hard as I’ve seen them work [after the catch],” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Monday. “They started to develop an attitude of how they wanted to play with the football in their hands.”
Lazor also noted that Tannehill “mentally was really on top of what was happening. There’s no substitution for experience.”
Trust builds, flows both ways. Mike Wallace told Lazor on the sideline he could get open. Wallace weaved and stretched and earned that 13-yard touchdown catch — a great effort by him, a quarterback’s-best-friend effort.
“Right now,” Lazor said, “Mike is kind of putting his money where his mouth is.”
With a strong receiving corps, a solid ground game (even sans Knowshon Moreno) and a much-improved offensive line, it is time to raise the bar on expectations with Tannehill and judge him based not on his own past inconsistencies but against the NFL at large. Quarterbacks all over are having great games every weekend. Example: Tannehill’s 109.3 passer rating on Sunday barely would crack the league-wide Week 4 top 10 entering Monday night’s game — and six teams didn’t even play this week because of byes.
Aaron Rodgers topped a 150 rating, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers were in the 130s, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger were in the 120s, and Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford were in the 110s. Peyton Manning (bye week) and Drew Brees (“only” 100.6) call what Tannehill just did ho-hum average.
That isn’t a knock on Tannehill. That’s just a perspective to remind that, if the top-tier quarterbacks are the company he wishes to keep, what he did Sunday must become the norm.
Consistently achieving a passer rating of at least 90 is a reasonable guidepost for Tannehill and, based on what we have seen, a key to success for Miami. Here are the facts into his third season as a starter, through 36 career starts, a now-reasonable sample size:
Miami has a 5-0 record when his rating tops 100, 8-1 in the 90s, 2-4 in the 80s, 1-4 in the 70s, and 1-10 in the 60s or below. Put another way, the Dolphins are 13-1 (.929) when Tannehill is 90 or better and 4-18 (.182) when he rates below 90.
Interestingly, the league-wide passer rating entering Week 4 was 90.6.
Tannehill needn’t be Peyton-great or Brees-prolific to hit 90 and for Miami to win. He just has to be consistently above average. Consistently pretty good.
“I envision myself as a good player,” Tannehill said after Sunday’s game.
That’s all they need him to be.
Every week, though, not once in a while.