Tannehill making late-season strides for Dolphins

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 18, 2013
Now that Ryan Tannehill has made 30 NFL starts, Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is wondering why Texas A&M ever played him at receiver. Tannehill switched to quarterback as a junior and started 19 games there for A&M. The Dolphins made him a first-round pick in 2012, and this month he's playing the best football of his brief pro career, which is a big reason they're mounting a late-season surge toward a playoff berth. ''He's a work in progress,'' Sherman said. ''He tries to get better every single week. He's very consistent. But here's a guy that hadn't played a whole lot of major-college football at the quarterback position. I don't know what his head coach was thinking.'' The second-guessing was accompanied by a grin, because Tannehill's coach at A&M was Sherman. Both can laugh now about Tannehill's abbreviated receiving career, because more than ever he looks like a keeper at quarterback. During the Dolphins' three-game winning streak this month, Tannehill's passer rating is 103.2, significantly higher than his career figure of 81.5. He has completed 65 percent of his passes in December for 843 yards with eight touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He has thrown for the go-ahead score in the final minutes each of the past two weeks to beat Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. As a result, the Dolphins (8-6) could clinch the final AFC wild-card berth as soon as Sunday at Buffalo. ''Most of our success has come from Ryan continuing to develop every single day,'' receiver Mike Wallace said. Despite an NFL-high 51 sacks, Tannehill hasn't missed a snap this season. Such continuity is a watershed for the Dolphins, who started an NFL-high 17 quarterbacks from 2000 to the beginning of 2012. Tannehill's 23 touchdown passes this year are the most in a season by a Miami quarterback other than Dan Marino. At his current pace, Tannehill will also become the first Dolphins quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards since Marino in 1994. Even so, Tannehill's statistics have yet to rival the league's elite QBs. He ranks seventh this year in interceptions, ninth in touchdowns, 10th in yards and 18th in passer rating. He sometimes holds the ball too long, as reflected by his sack total, and has consistently underthrown the speedy Wallace deep, which happened again Sunday in a victory over New England. ''I think I might be open this year deep more than I've ever been,'' Wallace said with a chuckle. ''It's crazy.'' Even so, Wallace sings Tannehill's praises, as do other teammates and the coaching staff. ''I like the way he's been playing,'' said coach Joe Philbin, not one to gush. ''He's making good decisions. Usually that's the No. 1 criterion at that position.'' Since the start of his rookie season, Tannehill has shown an eagerness to learn from mistakes and shrug off success. ''He's like our head coach in many ways,'' Sherman said. ''He has a very even demeanor. He doesn't get too high, he doesn't get too low, he just takes it all in and moves forward and takes it in stride. He's excited about winning this last ballgame. But he'll file that away, `OK, what do we have to do this week? What's the game plan?' That's just the way he is.'' Tannehill's quick to accept blame when things go wrong and credit teammates when things go right. Lately there has been a lot of credit to share, with Wallace, receiver Brian Hartline, tight end Charles Clay and running back Daniel Thomas all having big games in recent weeks. ''Guys around me are just helping me out so much, making big plays out of normal plays,'' Tannehill said. Despite a recent uptick, the Dolphins rank still in the lower half of the league in most offensive categories, and 21st in points. But the patchwork line has blocked better lately, and the two-minute offense has been excellent all year, making Miami tough to put away. Only two of the Dolphins' defeats have been by more than four points, while they've won six times by six points or less. Their pattern has been to keep the game close, then give the ball to Tannehill at the end, a formula that might make them dangerous in the playoffs. ''We have big things ahead of us,'' he said. --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL --- Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine
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