Even after this one, there’s still nothing that guarantees the Dolphins have found their quarterback of the next decade. We still don’t know if Ryan Tannehill, fresh off one of his best games as a professional, can continue to be the guy everyone saw this day or if he’s going to ride this high until he comes back to America and returns to his former self.
Tannehill can make no guarantees because even though he confidently says, “I envision myself as a good player,” he also admits there’s no certainty this game will give him sufficient cover to avoid calls for his benching — either from outside or within the Dolphins organization — sometime in the future, perhaps during this very season.
“I have no control over that,” he said even though he absolutely can control it by repeating this kind of performance (23 of 31 for 278 yards with two touchdowns and one late-game interception) more often.
So to declare the Dolphins have found their quarterback now is still a reach.
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But Sunday’s 38-14 trashing of the Oakland Raiders does guarantee the Dolphins can be comfortable in the knowledge they have a tough guy at quarterback.
This game proves Tannehill is mentally strong just as his previous 35 sack-soaked, punishment-absorbing games proved he’s physically tough.
This game, in short, proved the Dolphins have a quarterback with strong character.
“It was huge,” Tannehill said afterward. “Not only for me but for the team, as well.
“It just kind of shows the character we have as a team, being able to overcome everything that was going on and come out, travel through a long trip and play well.”
Forget about the trip. If Tannehill had walked across the street and played like this on some South Florida parking lot it would have been just as impressive, because it still would have meant he did not fold under pressure.
Remember that although Tannehill won’t admit it and coach Joe Philbin acts as if the issue comes from outer space, the truth is if Tannehill had fallen flat on his face against the Raiders, he could have lost his job during the bye week.
No, that’s not a certainty. No, Philbin hasn’t said that. But if the coach wouldn’t have at least considered the possibility, he would have not been doing his job.
And think what you will of Philbin, but there is no doubt he at least does his homework. It doesn’t always lead to the coach having all the right answers, but the work is definitely done.
And so Tannehill was basically playing for his job Sunday.
And given those stakes, against a team that made Tom Brady seem ordinary last week, Tannehill responded. Big time.
His accuracy, inconsistent the first three games of this season and not too good dating back to the final two weeks last season, was pinpoint. He completed 14 consecutive passes during one stretch.
Tannehill looked off tight end Charles Clay, who was covered, on one second-down play in the first quarter, reset his feet (an issue for him sometimes) and uncoiled an 35-yard seam pass on a line that caught up to Brian Hartline in perfect stride.
“We usually don’t even get to that guy,” Tannehill said. “We usually hit the tight end coming across the middle.”
That pass is artwork even when everything is going well and a quarterback is confident of himself and his status. But when the coach declined to publicly name Tannehill the starter — regardless of what he said to the player privately?
When fans are doubting?
When the press is hounding?
When teammates are perhaps wondering?
In that instance, that pass was an answer to quiet the riot.
And the entire day had that kind of silencing effect.
Staring down the receivers? Showing no pocket presence or awareness? Missing wide or long or short?
Tannehill answered those issues with completion after completion after completion — just like a major-league quarterback is supposed to do in a time of adversity.
“I’m excited about the step that I took and that the offense took this week,” Tannehill said. “But we have to build off of it. It’s just a step.”
It’s an important step because while Tannehill shutting down the criticism from outside the locker room makes his life easier, he also made a point to his teammates. They have eyes, too, and they’ve seen Tannehill struggle the previous three weeks.
So Sunday’s turnaround was important to Tannehill so he could keep his unquestioned status in the locker room as the guy.
“His preparation wasn’t any different, but maybe his mind, I don’t know if he was thinking about it,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “Ryan is a humble guy. He’s a smart individual. He knows how to go about his business and complaining and doing this and doing that wouldn’t have helped him.
“He kept his head down. Worked. Continued to practice every day and tried to get better. That’s what we all have to continue to do. He was on point. He even ran today. He had a great game. He was hungry out there. He set the example.”
One example Tannehill set is that adversity doesn’t have to win.
That’s no small thing for the Dolphins, by the way.
This team that folded in the final two games last season comes home with a sense that this season can still be a great one. Even when things seem bad, something good is possible. Ryan Tannehill is the personification of that right now.
“I’m a realist,” he said. “I envision myself as a good player, and I know I wasn’t playing up to those standards the first three weeks. I wanted to come out and personally play better, and my teammates needed that from me.
“They expect me to play better and to be able to come out and finally do that, it felt good.”