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You can come up with all sorts of reasons why the Dolphins are currently on a three-game winning streak and have vaulted themselves to the forefront of the playoff picture. But, in truth, this has more to do with one player taking his game to another level than it does anything else.
Ryan Tannehill, you see, is playing about as well right now as any quarterback in the league. And without trying to simplify things too much, the Dolphins will travel as far as Tannehill takes them.
“The Dolphins are a dangerous team right now,” said CBS analyst Phil Simms, “and that’s because they have a hot quarterback.”
Hot? Scorching may be a more suitable description. Heading into Sunday’s game at Buffalo, Tannehill has put together a December to remember. In three December games, he has thrown eight touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He is completing 64.6 percent of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 103.2. But it’s more than just the numbers, more than all the passing yards he has compiled. This is about a light switch going on, about a player who has refined his game and who is playing with a level of confidence right now that is jumping off the charts.
What do you think it says that Tannehill connected with 10 different receivers last Sunday? To me, it says that he is far more comfortable in the pocket, that he is surveying the field now and that he is going through his progressions instead of just keying on one or two players.
“He is so much more aware now than he was when I first got here,” said wide receiver Mike Wallace. “There is more of an urgency to his game. Everybody around here knows that the success of our team is tied directly to the development of Ryan Tannehill.”
The victory over New England last Sunday was perhaps Tannehill’s finest moment. How he responds Sunday in the cold and the hostility of Buffalo, against a team that leads the league in sacks, will serve as another important measuring stick. Will he pick up where he left off against the Patriots? Will he continue his December roll? How will he handle success?
These are important questions that must be answered as the Dolphins continue their drive toward a January game. We’re learning a lot about Tannehill as each game passes. We’ll know a lot more after Buffalo.
There are all sorts of wonderful stories emerging around this football team, stories that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored. Back-ups playing prominent roles. A patched up offensive line coming together. A defense that that has now forced at least one turnover in every game. Mike Wallace finally finding his groove.
But as significant as all of that may seem, none of it really matters unless Tannehill leads the way, sets the example and comes up with the type of game-changing plays he has produced during this memorable stretch of victories.
“Guys around me are really stepping up,” Tannehill said. “They deserve plenty of credit.”
But when you look at December runs, when you examine the teams over the last few seasons who have made a significant impact in the playoffs, it usually comes down to the quarterback. Tannehill knows this. His teammates know it. The challenge now is sustaining. The challenge now is putting New England behind him and focusing on a tough crowd, a tough environment and an opponent who would like nothing more than to ruin the Dolphins’ season.
“Every game now is the biggest game of the year,” said veteran defensive end Cameron Wake. “Every game is more important than the last one. That’s got to be our attitude.”
So the prize is right in front of them. If the Dolphins beat Buffalo and then the Jets next Sunday they are in the playoffs. It’s all on them. There is no need to scoreboard watch, no need to boggle your mind with tiebreaker scenarios.
Yes, the Dolphins are exactly where they need to be. And so is their second-year quarterback.
On Monday, AC in the AM evaluates what happens Sunday in Buffalo.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.