Davis: Ryan Tannehill shows he can win with Dolphins' strong supporting cast
By Craig Davis, @DolphinMaven
The narrative on Ryan Tannehill has always bogged down with the focus on what he is not rather than on what he is.
That’s why there is gnashing of teeth among the (nervously) faithful even after he directed the sort of win on the road against a division nemesis the Dolphins have rarely achieved in recent years, 20-12 over the Jets on Sunday.
The Dolphins are 2-0 for the first time since 2013. They are 9-1 in Tannehill’s past 10 starts.
Yet concern and doubt persists about how far Miami can go with this quarterback.
Tannehill was most impressive in running for 47 yards on five attempts (disregarding three kneel-downs that subtracted three yards at the end).
Still many wonder: Can he be counted on to make winning throws?
Tannehill had Albert Wilson streaking past coverage with a chance to deliver a back-breaker to the Jets. Unlike much of the day, he had time to set up and step into it. Instead, he seemed off balance when he let it go, and sailed it out of reach.
Yes, he connected with Kenny Stills for a 75-yarder on a similar play for a vital touchdown last week against Tennessee. But the winning quarterbacks make those type of throws week after week.
Even after Tannehill’s stats Sunday point to an efficient performance – 17-for-23 for 168 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions – and a superlative passer rating of 123.1, there is a sense that Tannehill didn’t play particularly well.
Every time he appears to be separating from his past, he does something that has detractors smacking their foreheads. Such as getting surprised on a naked bootleg by unblocked linebacker Jordan Jenkins and getting so flustered he coughed up the ball on his own 12.
Xavien Howard bailed him out with an interception in the end zone on the next play.
Even with a 20-0 halftime lead, this one started to get worrisome because The Dolphins’ first four possessions of the second half concluded fumble, punt, fumble, punt. They had all of 47 yards of offense after intermission before the final clock-killing drive that was desperately needed.
Tannehill made the game-sealing run for 14 yards on third-and-6 just before the two-minute warning.
That followed an unlikely third-and-19 conversion when Tannehill somehow squirted through a heavy rush and sent a flutter of a pass in the direction of Frank Gore, who picked it off his shoe tops and carried it just far enough to prevent the Jets from getting the ball back with about three minutes remaining.
While Tannehill may still give fans a queasy feeling, they can take heart in knowing he has more help than in the past. Offseason additions of Gore and receivers Wilson and Danny Amendola, plus the emergence of speedster Jakeem Grant, has left no reason to lament the departure of Jarvis Landry.
Wilson showed enough to answer that question when he took Tannehill’s pass over the middle in stride, made the first defender miss and used his speed to turn down the sideline and complete a 29-yard reception that put Miami up 14-0.
Amendola reinforced his value as a possession receiver when he hung on for a 14-yard catch on third down despite getting caught in a slam sandwich between two Jets that briefly sent him to the sideline.
The defense already has six takeaways (five interceptions) in two games, including two picks and a fumble recovery Sunday. The impact of the addition of Robert Quinn and Minkah Fitzpatrick is already evident, and other defenders are coming into their own.
And don’t overlook the contribution of punter Matt Haack, who pinned the Jets inside their 20 six times.
Whether or not fans will ever be believers in Tannehill, there is no question that his teammates are. They appreciate playing with a quarterback that had more yards rushing by himself than the Jets, who were limited to 42 yards on 19 carries.
Grant spoke to Tannehill’s leadership following the opener, saying, “He’s not the same Tannehill that’s been around. He’s taken control.”
The wisdom of so many runs by design for a quarterback with a bulky brace guarding a surgically repaired knee is a question for Adam Gase to answer.
If Tannehill appeared jittery under pressure and held the ball too long at times, he also delivered some crisp passes in the first half. Most impressive, waiting for A.J. Derby to get open in the end zone and delivering a 19-yard scoring strike.
He got the Dolphins in the end zone after both Jets first-half turnovers, which is a departure from past form. And while third down remains an issue, those two conversions on the final drive eliminated the possibility of last-minute drama.
Tannehill may never become what his critics want, but the back-to-back wins have shown he works well enough with this supporting cast to lead a team in playoff pursuit.