Here is the thing about Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and this is the time to put it plainly: The Dolphins do not need Tannehill to be The Next Marino. There likely never will be another one of those in Miami.
The Dolphins do not even need Tannehill to be Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. That twin shadow might follow him throughout his NFL career, but comparisons with them are pointless and place upon Tannehill an added pressure that need not be there.
The Dolphins do not even need Tannehill to become a superstar, a perennial Pro Bowl selection, or someone who joins the Canton-bound plane of Tom Brady.
All the Dolphins need Tannehill to be is exactly what he was here Sunday:
Good enough when it matters most.
So mark it down, then. The Dolphins’ 24-21 home victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday was a redeeming, faith-affirming watershed for Tannehill and this franchise’s belief in him as the long-term answer at the most important position.
Sunday proved Tannehill is good enough. Now all he has to do is keep being that and proving it and proving it some more because the good ones keep doing that — and if they do it enough, and consistently, the good ones become the great ones.
Dan Marino led 37 of these fourth-quarter comeback wins in his storied, Hall of Fame career.
Sunday marked Tannehill’s very first one, in his fourth opportunity.
What is that line about every great journey beginning with a first step?
“You’re excited,” Tannehill admitted of his first late-game hero’s role. “You know your team needs you to step up.”
And you do. That’s all. You do.
And in Tannehill’s case, you do that just when folks were beginning to doubt you could.
Miami had lost three in a row before this. Tannehill had been pretty awful in the last two. Then Sunday he threw an interception on the team’s second possession — his sixth in the past 64 passes.
You could feel it. If the bandwagon was not emptying, its occupants were getting increasingly nervous.
(Is this guy really the answer?)
Tannehill had been outplayed most of this game by fellow rookie QB Russell Wilson of Seattle. But then the game belonged to Tannehill when it got late, when it mattered.
Trailing 14-7 early in the fourth quarter, Tannehill led Miami on an 82-yard tying touchdown drive including a 39-yard strike to Davone Bess. Yes, the young QB got very lucky on one play when a marginal roughing-the-passer penalty negated an end-zone interception he’d thrown.
“Just a bad, bad play by me,” Tannehill would say later. “The Good Lord was looking out for me.”
That lucky escape underlined that Tannehill is still learning and growing, but what happened afterward verified his potential to be just what Miami needs him to be.
After a Seattle kick-return TD put Miami down again, Tannehill directed a tying 80-yard drive that featured a critical 18-yard third-down completion and ended with a 29-yard scoring toss to Charles Clay.
Then came Tannehill’s defining moments.
Game tied, 90 yards to go, 1:32 on the clock and only one timeout.
Situations like this formed the legend Marino became, remember?
“I needed to step up,” said the rookie, the Heir to the Air.
He would complete three passes on that drive, including one of 25 yards to Bess. He had a 15-yard run, too. He worked the clock and the field as if he’d been born to do it. He made it easy for Dan Carpenter on the winning 43-yard field goal.
Inside the huddles, Tannehill was showing nothing but calm and confidence.
“Same. Same. Same,” Bess described Tannehill’s demeanor. “Never rattled.”
“Extremely poised for a rookie,” added Bush.
“Comfortable,” said Clay.
There had been a funny episode along the way Sunday.
A computer glitch caused the stadium sprinklers to suddenly go on late in the third quarter, interrupting play and briefly soaking the field.
“Funniest thing ever,” linebacker Karlos Dansby called it later. “Never seen that before. Well, high school, maybe.”
Based on the fourth quarter that followed, we’ll call that brief shower Tannehill’s baptism.
What we saw was a young QB good enough to perform in the clutch when he has the right help.
There may come a time when he is experienced enough to do the heavy lifting even without much help, as the great ones do.
For now, Tannehill needs the solid offensive-line play he got Sunday. And he needs guys like Bess and Clay to make us forget Miami does not have a premier No. 1 receiver. And he needs a stout running game to also ease the burden — and certainly got that with 189 yards rushing, 87 of them by Reggie Bush.
“You saw some of those play-action passes working,” noted Bush of the impact of a great running game on the passing game’s success.
Tannehill would complete 11 of 15 passes for 185 yards in the second half. He would also break Marino’s 1983 rookie record for most passing yards in a season.
That record might seem like a major milestone, but the first career fourth-quarter comeback might have been an even bigger one.
See, it was that comeback that offered the very same message to the believers who found affirmation as it did to the doubters who maybe found renewed hope:
This kid is good enough.