No doubt there was much to be thankful for across South Florida this Thanksgiving,and no doubt very little of it included loving appreciation for the state of our major sports teams. It is an Abyss of Average, a Mess of Mediocrity — meh all around.
Miami Hurricanes football at 6-5 has taken a major step back, and now seen top receiver Jeff Thomas quit in frustration. The reeling Heat were 6-11 with five straight home losses entering Friday night’s game, Dwyane Wade’s farewell season aimed for a sad ending. The disappointing Panthers are well off NHL playoff pace and now have lost valuable Vincent Trocheck to a serious injury. The rebranding, rebuilding Marlins are in trust-us-we-might-be-good-someday mode, and now all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto may be the next to go.
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Relying on the Dolphins. And on Ryan Tannehill.
The Fins at 5-5 are unexpectedly in playoff contention entering Sunday’s game at Indianapolis, unexpectedly competitive considering basement-dwelling preseason expectation and all of the injuries. This is the only one of the mentioned teams overachieving, when you think about it.
Now the starting quarterback comes back, perfectly timed, perfectly positioned to save a city, a season and perhaps his own future in Miami.
Where’s Steven Spielberg? It could be a movie starring Tom Hanks.
“Saving Passer Ryan.”
This begins Tannehill’s great litmus test. By my reckoning and that of many Dolfans, I’m sure, this is the QB’s big, best and perhaps last chance to cast away all of the persisting doubt in redeeming, redefining triumph.
“We understand there’s six weeks left, and everything is out there for the taking,” receiver Kenny Stills said this week.
It is Tannehill who must go take. Who must prove he can.
Miami is in a knot of five teams at 5-5, tied for the sixth and final AFC playoff ticket, though the Fins stand eighth when tiebreakers are factored in. Miami realistically must finish 4-2 from here, maybe even 5-1, to make the postseason.
“I’m excited,” Tannehill said of the home-stretch challenge. “I’m ready to move forward. I believe we have a lot of football in front of us and we can go win a lot of football games.”
The recent Dolphins have seen late-season fizzles more than ferocity, but must now finish strong. A Dolphins team without a great track record of winning on the road must now kick-start all of this by going to Indy and beating a hot Colts team and a hot Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the same 2012 NFL Draft that saw Tannehill selected eighth.
Tannehill played the first 77 games of his NFL career without missing any — imprimatur of durability. He has played only five of 30 since, batting two knee injuries and the recent shoulder ailment.
“Five, six weeks of grinding, of frustration, of pain,” he called missing the past five games. “Obviously I’m not quite 100 percent, but it’s a tolerable pain. Everyone is confident that no further injury is going to happen because of playing through it.”
In Tannehill’s absence, the offense under Brock Osweiler has failed to score a touchdown in two straight games, the red zone becoming the dead zone. Tannehilll’s return finds fast, big-play receivers Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson both lost to injury. The offensive line remains erratic. Tannehill acknowledges he isn’t 100 percent.
No excuses are available.
In the next six games Tannehill is summoned to:
1). Stay healthy, mindful that the most fundamental ability is availability.
2). Make his surrounding talent better, and carry a team the way top quarterbacks do.
3). Find a way to win at least four of the last six games, which includes three within the division and three on the road.
Two of the remaining games are back to back against the Patriots and at the Vikings, meaning there is precious little margin for error in the other four, starting Sunday.
Winning four from here is a lot to ask, but if is too much to expect, this might not be the quarterback you want.
Winning four from here should not be too much to expect of a veteran, top-10-drafted quarterback.
It should not be too much to expect of a QB whose team must decide after this season whether to stick with Tannehill or move on.
This is the time, starting Sunday.
This is his test, and for Ryan Tannehill, it’s pass or fail..