Tannehill might return to Dolphins practice this week

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) The Miami Dolphins have begun preparing for their first playoff game since 2008 uncertain who will start at quarterback.

Coach Adam Gase said Monday he doesn't know whether Ryan Tannehill will return to practice this week, much less play, after missing the final three regular-season games with a sprained left knee.

The Dolphins (10-6) play at Pittsburgh (11-5) on Sunday seeking their first postseason victory in 16 years. Ten-year veteran Matt Moore has gone 2-1 filling in at quarterback and will make his first career playoff start if Tannehill remains sidelined.

Tannehill threw on the side last week. Gase said he'll talk with team medical personnel to be sure he doesn't jeopardize Tannehill's long-term health.

''I'm going to have to feel really good about this,'' Gase said. ''I need to know what his movement skills are, where we are as far as the structure of his knee and things like that.''

Gase said he doubts he'll wait until the end of the week to decide on the starter. The first practice will be Wednesday, and everyone acknowledges a healthy Tannehill would help Miami's chances.

''Anytime you get a starter back, no matter what position it is, that's what you want,'' Gase said. ''But since Matt has been in there, he's done a really good job and he's done exactly what I need him to do.''

Tannehill is eager to return, Gase said.

''I'm not really going to listen to him saying he wants to play,'' Gase said. ''I'm pretty sure he had some medical classes in college, but I know he doesn't have a degree quite yet.''

Cornerback Byron Maxwell (ankle) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (knee) might also return this week, which would provide a welcome lift to an injury-plagued defense.

The Dolphins earned the AFC's final wild-card berth even though they allowed a franchise-record 6,122 yards. In the past six weeks, the defense has given up an average of 436 yards per game.

That includes Sunday's 35-14 loss to AFC East champion New England, which left Gase still grumpy 24 hours later.

''Yesterday was awful,'' he said. ''For us to show up and look the way we looked against a team that has dominated this division, to get smacked around in our own stadium is just terrible.''

If the Dolphins beat AFC North champion Pittsburgh, they'll play at New England on Jan. 14.

The Dolphins were 1-4 when they revived their season in Week 6 by beating the Steelers at home, 30-15. Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards, and the defense held Ben Roethlisberger to 83 yards passing in the first 55 minutes. Tannehill threw for 252 yards without a sack or turnover.

''The Pittsburgh game is where we started finding our identity,'' left tackle Branden Albert said.

That started a stretch of nine victories in 10 games, many of them close, with the team embracing a motto of going 1-0 every week.

Despite Sunday's drubbing, and despite being outscored and outgained this season, the Dolphins are sounding confident. The playoffs are a new experience for most of them, even five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.

''It's a big deal,'' cornerback Bobby McCain said. ''This is what you live for. When you were a little boy, this is what you used to watch in December and January. We're relevant. We're going to go out and go 1-0.''

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Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/steven-wine

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