Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill returns after an injury as they play the Bucs in the preseason opener
Ryan Tannehill looked just fine, thank you very much.
Now about that Dolphins defense ...
Wait. Hit pause. Breathe.
Preseason games, by their very nature, leave observers prone to overreaction.
And there was plenty to react to Thursday night, when the Miami Dolphins hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Run game: Improved.
Cornerbacks: Too generous.
Pass rush: Still quiet.
Pass protection: Darn good.
Kenny Stills: Still protesting.
David Fales: Solid.
Stadium: Half full.
Mike Hull: Out for a while.
Yes, there were plenty of subplots at Hard Rock Thursday.
But they were just that: Subplots.
The only story that mattered on a soupy night here was the return of 17.
Tannehill was back.
He was healthy.
And he looked good.
The numbers — 4 of 6, 32 yards — were nothing special.
But his night felt special nonetheless.
It was the culmination of 20 months of blood, sweat, and yes, tears.
The last time Tannehill wore a Dolphins uniform for a game, his eyes were red. He used a towel to wipe the emotions away. Teammates came to console him.
The date was Dec. 11, 2016. Tannehill had just moments earlier learned that he suffered a significant knee injury.
He had no idea then that he would not take another NFL snap until Thursday night.
The road that followed — Tannehill’s decision not to have surgery, and then the second ACL tear in 2017 training camp — has been explored exhaustively.
But Thursday night, you could almost see the page turn on the darkest stretch of Tannehill’s football life.
At the stroke of 7, he raced through the tunnel and onto the field with his teammates.
His wait was over. The Dolphins won the toss, got the ball, and it was Tannehill Time.
And it took all of one snap for Tannehill to prove he will be on the move this fall, knee brace or not.
Adam Gase dialed up a roll-out off a bootleg. Tannehill threw a strike to Kenny Stills that went for 15 yards.
And it was go-time. To the line, the Dolphins rushed after every live ball, suggesting that Gase will indeed go fast this year, if his offense cooperates.
And cooperate it did at first, overcoming a first-down holding call by Ja’Wuan James and converting a fourth-and-short with a Kenyan Drake run between the tackles. The protection, notably, was great.
“It was fun calling plays,” Gase said. “They were moving well. I felt like we had a shot there on that third down. We had good protection, we just didn’t convert, and then we miss the field goal. Overall, the protection was awesome. He was back there peeling an orange.”
As for the pulp: Tannehill’s first and only drive ended with back-to-back incompletions, and Jason Sanders hooked the ensuing field goal left.
So Tannehill’s night was done. And it by most any measure, it was a success.
The same cannot be said for his friends on defense.
The Dolphins starters got carved up by the Buccaneers’ backup QB.
Ryan Fitzpatrick got the start because the NFL suspended Jameis Winston for the regular season’s first three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
He led Tampa Bay on a 57-yard touchdown drive on the Bucs’ first possession, and completed 6 of 8 passes for 55 yards in the first quarter.
Then Winston came in against Miami’s backups, and the Dolphins might as well have been crab legs. He broiled Miami’s secondary, completing 11 of 13 passes for 102 yards.
The Dolphins probably woke up Friday with no more clarity on who will start at corner alongside Xavien Howard than they had Thursday afternoon. Tony Lippett sat out the game with a minor foot injury, and neither Cordrea Tankersley nor Torry McTyer was particularly good.
In all, Miami’s starting defense allowed 87 yards and 6.2 per play. Important caveat: Both of the Dolphins’ most accomplished defenders — Cameron Wake and Reshad Jones — got the night off.
They presumably will play next Friday against the Panthers.
And Tannehill? He’ll be there too.
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