The contrast in the Miami Dolphins’ and Hurricanes’ quarterback situations was hard to miss over the weekend.
UM coach Mark Richt knew he needed a better QB and had one to turn to. N’Kosi Perry threw four touchdown passes — three in the second half Saturday — to lead the dramatic 28-27 comeback victory over Florida State.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase needs a better QB, too (though he doesn’t know it, or won’t admit it), but has nobody to turn to. So he could only watch Sunday as Ryan Tannehill’s three second-half turnovers, two parlayed for TDs, led to the blown 17-point lead and Miami’s 27-17 loss in Cincinnati.
It felt Sunday as if we were witnessing a seismic fault in the foundation under Tannehill’s future here. Like we were seeing the beginning of the end of the Tannehill era. It isn’t just the consecutive awful games. Far from it. It is the cumulative effect. It is seven years of this. Of enough upside to tease us that he’s the guy, and enough of much less to make us know he isn’t.
Tannehill, 30 now, fully formed, always has been surrounded by excuses. Insulated and protected by them in his time with Miami..
“He was an inexperienced college quarterback who needed time to develop.”
“He didn’t have enough playmakers. Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry were the problem.”
“The offensive line isn’t good enough.” (Even though since drafting Tannehill, Miami has selected more blockers in the first three rounds  than any other team).
“The defense wasn’t good enough.”
“Too many injuries, too many penalties.”
“He’s playing under his fifth different offensive coordinator; there’s no continuity.”
“It’s been his own two knee injuries.”
Yes, it’s always something other than, “It seems Tannehill simply isn’t good enough. He’s OK. He isn’t bad. His good side is sufficient to extend faith. But the sample size is big now and he is what his career won-lost record of 40-42 suggests. He’s average. And his team needs better.”
A couple of weeks ago, at 3-0, we saw that upside. His passer rating was well over 100. He looked better than ever.
But this isn’t a matter of a knee-jerk reaction, of our outlook wholly changing based on the past two games’ downturn against better competition. This has been a seven-year debate, wondering if Tannehill is consistently good enough. If he is able to lift what’s around him and carry a team. If he’s the answer. At some point the incessant wondering becomes the answer.
Now we see the worst two-game stretch of Tannehill’s pro career for combined passing yards and the third-worst back-to-back for combined passer rating. But it’s more than that.
Failing to lead a single scoring drive in Foxborough last week came on a day when the Dolphins were in position to stake a claim to a power shift in the AFC East, at least symbolically.
Then Sunday’s collapse was all on Tannehill, the terrible troika of second-half turnovers leading directly to 14 Bengals points.
Now Mr. T needs to figure things out against an arriving Chicago Bears squad led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year front runner Khalil Mack.
In fairness the excuses never come from Tannehill himself. Via repeated practice, he is an expert and shouldering responsibility. Just Sunday in Cincinnati, he said, “It all started with the turnover. That’s on me. That’s squarely on me.”
Said Gase on Monday: “We have a turnover that basically started a freefall.”
The larger excuses for Tannehill come from the Dolphins, though. Because they keep doubling-down on him. Because they don’t have anybody better. Because they keep not trying to find anybody better in free agency or the draft.
Gase blamed protection breakdowns on Sunday. Singled out Laremy Tunsil’s injury.
Asked if Tannehill remains his starting quarterback Gase said, quickly, “Yes.”
Which makes sense, because what choice does he have? Backup Brock Osweiler is a journeyman at 27. Third-stringer David Fales has yet to start an NFL game.
Tannehill is the only QB Miami has drafted in the first round since Dan Marino in 1983. There have been 19 first-round QBs taken just since Tanny in 2012 — five this past April alone, when Miami cold have pulled the trigger but did not.
When is this franchise going to invest big again on the most important position?
Might it be the 2019 draft? Could it be Oregon’s highly regarded 6-6 Justin Herbert?
Quick aside: This past NFL weekend, for the first time ever in the Super Bowl era, rookie quarterbacks were 4-0. I’m just saying. Small sample, but the infusion of electricity Baker Mayfield has brought to Cleveland is real. Jets fans love Sam Darnold. The Bills (Josh Allen) and Cardinals (Josh Rosen) believe they’ve found their future at QB.
So many other teams led by the unbeaten Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes have recently found their future at QB.
The Dolphins need to find theirs.
Tannehill has two seasons left on his contract after this one. His salary-cap hit escalates sharply to $26.612 million in 2019. It feels like time to move on after this season. To gauge if Tannehill has any trade value. To spend for a proven guy in free agency or top-draft a QB.
Might he heroically flip the narrative? Might Tannehill find his career’s epiphany, lead the Dolphins into the playoffs this season and achieve the franchise’s first playoff victory of his career?
Anything is possible, stubborn dreamers. But if it doesn’t happen in seven years, is it logical to believe it ever will?
At some point, if your quarterback does not enact change, it is time to change your quarterback.