And suddenly, the Dolphins’ last six weeks of the season got really interesting.
How’s this for a narrative:
Ryan Tannehill, the guy who has barely played in two seasons, returns for the final month and leads the Dolphins to the playoffs?
That story, as improbable as it seemed two weeks ago, can now be written.
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Because Tannehill will start Sunday against the Colts after missing the past five games with a shoulder injury. And the Dolphins, despite winning just three games in two months, are tied for the AFC’s second Wild Card spot.
Tannehill got the green light from doctors and his coach to play against the Colts this week in what could be an elimination game. Both Miami and Indianapolis are 5-5, and the clearest postseason path for each runs through the sixth seed.
“I’m excited,” Tannehill said Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot of football in front of us. Obviously one game at a time, but I firmly believe that if we take care of business, then we control our own destiny. It’s going to be a matter of going out each and every week and performing and winning football games.”
So how did a guy who had stabbing pain in his throwing shoulder as recently as three weeks ago get clearance to play with no surgery?
Rest, rest and rest. He took a week off from throwing and then hit it hard during the bye, throwing more each day.
And each day, the shoulder responded — even after a session in which he ripped off 100 passes. He even tried throwing on the move, in an attempt to as closely simulate a game as possible.
“I’m obviously not quite 100 percent but I’m confident and have made all the throws I’m going to need to make over the course of a game,” Tannehill said. “... Obviously, I’m not completely pain-free right now, but it’s at a tolerable rate and it’s something that I can deal with, and it doesn’t affect any throws I make.”
So Gase will not coach scared Sunday. He’s going to run the offense as if Tannehill is full-go.
“It’s not anything drastic,” Gase said, when asked about the change in game plan. “We have to do a few things different just because of the personnel we have. We lost a couple of guys who were key to us at the receiver spot and have a different skill set than what we had in the past. Everything’s going to be different and how we go about it.”
Gase won’t badger Tannehill throughout Sunday’s game with health questions, but does have to rely on Tannehill being honest about how he feels, both during the week and on Sunday.
“I trust him. Kind of,” Gase said.
Tannehill added: “Even if it stays where it’s at the rest of the year, I’m totally confident with where it’s at. Hopefully it gets better, but if it doesn’t I’m totally OK with that and we can get completely healthy in the offseason. I can make all the throws and do what I need to do. It won’t be an issue.”
Assuming he’s healthy, Tannehill is of course an upgrade over Brock Osweiler, who went 2-3 as a starter in relief.
But how big of one?
Their stats are not that dissimilar, with Tannehill having a slight edge in completion percentage (65.9 to 63.5) and yards-per-attempt (7.5 to 7.0). Where Tannehill has been far better: touchdown percentage (6.2 to 3.4).
But if nothing else, Tannehill’s return provides an emotional lift to an offense who has not scored a touchdown since October.
Running back Frank Gore said having Tannehill back in the huddle is “a big plus for us.
“He came in there like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s finish strong these last six, see if we can make a run, starting with Indy,’” Gore added.