Tannehill making late-season strides for Dolphins

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.

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