Joe Flacco comes to town Sunday, giving the Dolphins a close look at the kind of quarterback they hope Ryan Tannehill becomes.
But on paper, the triggerman Ryan Tannehill has actually resembled through 20 NFL games is not Flacco, but Chad Henne.
Skeptical? Check the numbers:
• Tannehill has gone 10-10 and thrown more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (17). He also has fumbled 15 times, losing seven.
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• Henne, meanwhile, went 11-9 early in his Dolphins career, throwing 20 touchdowns and 20 picks in that span.
• As for Flacco, his stats are not completely comparable because he appeared in three playoff games as a rookie. But through 20 regular-season games, the Ravens quarterback went 14-6, with 22 touchdowns to just 15 interceptions.
Now, most believe Tannehill’s upside remains far higher than Henne’s ever was. The team’s previous 3-0 start would suggest they’re right.
But playing in front of the largest audience in his career — nearly 14 million tuned in for Monday night’s loss to New Orleans — Tannehill raised all the old questions in 60 ugly minutes.
He threw three interceptions. He lost his third fumble of the season. And for the first time this season, he wasn’t the best quarterback on the field.
And so, it’s hard to definitively say that the Dolphins have found their franchise quarterback. But up in Baltimore, they already knew they had their guy at this point in Flacco’s career.
“We felt like he would be the long-term answer [after 20 starts],” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “But yet, young quarterbacks are always developing. I would say Joe is still developing, too, and he’s in his sixth year now.”
Of course, not even Super Bowl MVPs are immune to the occasional stinker.
Flacco had his on Sunday, throwing a career-high five interceptions in Baltimore’s loss to Buffalo.
“It’s pretty sucky, I guess,” Flacco said with a chuckle. “People say it’s the highest number in my career, and I say ‘I hope so.’ ”
Of course, when you’ve won twice as many regular-season games as you’ve lost in your career, people tend to be more forgiving.
Though Flacco said he’s grown more comfortable every year, one of his biggest breakthroughs came between Years One and Two.
That’s why the stakes are so high for Tannehill this year. Quarterbacks are expected to struggle as rookies, and show improvement as sophomores.
Tannehill certainly has done that, with both his completion percentage and quarterback rating improved this year.
But Flacco said Wednesday that stats alone are not a good gauge of a young quarterback.
He explained: “When you get back into the film room, is he making the right decisions? Is he going to the right places with the football? Is he getting the offense into the right plays? If he’s doing those things, then I’d say they have to feel really comfortable with where their progression is and where they’re headed.”
To all of those questions, Joe Philbin responded yes on Wednesday. Not even Aaron Rodgers, who he coached in Green Bay, has been completely mistake-free, he inferred.
But Tannehill makes the right reads and throws “95 percent of the time,” Philbin said.
“If you study quarterbacks over time, there’s going to be days when you’re not as productive as you’d like them to be,” Philbin added. “That was certainly the case on Monday night.
“He’s going to have another opportunity. It’s a brand new week of preparation, and I’m thinking he’s going to play an excellent football game on Sunday.”
If so, Tannehill will have a leg up on even Flacco. He threw two picks and lost the 21st start of his career.