In Year 3, Tannehill looks to take step forward

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Ryan Tannehill was barely a teenager when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl.

The 25-year-old Miami Dolphins' quarterback had all the predictable idols growing up, names like Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning on the list.

And of course, Brady was one he wanted to emulate as well.

''I hate admitting that now,'' Tannehill said, ''just because I am playing against him.''

Their paths collide again Sunday, when Brady and the New England Patriots visit Tannehill and the Dolphins in the regular-season-opener for both teams. It'll be Brady's 220th NFL game; it'll be Tannehill's 33rd.

It's never mano-a-mano, of course, since Tannehill and Brady will never be on the field simultaneously unless something goes horribly wrong with the respective game plans. But it's not a stretch to say that being the other quarterback in a game featuring Brady isn't easy for anyone, whether it's a seasoned veteran or someone entering just his fourth season of being a full-time starter at the college and pro levels.

''I still feel like I'm a young player trying to earn it,'' Brady said. ''I think that's most important. No one really cares what you've done in the past. Certainly my teammates expect me to go out there and be the best I can be. That's what I'm going to try to be for this team and that's what I owe to them.''

The last time Tannehill was matched up against Brady, the maturation of the Dolphins' QB was obvious.

Brady did what Brady does, guiding the New England Patriots on a 73-yard touchdown drive to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. But instead of shrinking in that moment, Tannehill answered with a 60-yard drive of his own and threw a winning touchdown pass with 1:15 left to give Miami a 24-20 victory.

It may have been overall the best game of Tannehill's career: 25 of 37 passing for 312 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, all capped by a two-minute drive worth savoring.

''He's excellent in those situations and that's probably really what beat us last year down there was their ability to execute at the end of the game,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ''But they've been a good two-minute team. He's done a good job in that situation throughout his career. I think he throws the ball well.''

Tannehill might have the tools to take a big step forward again this year.

The Dolphins have a new offense, brought in by coordinator Bill Lazor - who was with the Philadelphia Eagles last season when they became one of the league's elite groups at moving the football.

Lazor speaks highly of Tannehill's growth. So do Tannehill's teammates.

''He carries himself like an NFL quarterback now,'' center Mike Pouncey said.

There is an air of confidence around Tannehill, who hasn't missed a game even though he's been sacked more than any other quarterback in the last two seasons. The Dolphins figure to be faster-paced this year, which means he shouldn't have the ball as long and in theory then may get hit less.

''You're talking about a guy that has the desire to be great and the desire to work at it, which is really important,'' Lazor said. ''We ask him every single day to be the most prepared player when he walks out on the practice field. So the first thing it's going to be for the quarterback is work, off the field and in the classroom. I think he's done a great job with that.''

There's plenty of trends that tie all those quarterbacks that Tannehill looked up to as a kid: They all won a lot of games, and they all were (or in the cases of Brees, Manning and Brady, remain) the unquestioned leader of their team.

Tannehill figures it's time to take that leap.

''You have to be able to make a play, find a way and that's football,'' Tannehill said. ''You are going to have those tough situations where someone is going to have to step up and make a play. I want that to be me. I want that to be the guys with me on offense and if we do that we will win a lot of games.''

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