After starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill turned in his fifth straight questionable performance dating back to last season, Head Coach Joe Philbin stopped short of giving the struggling quarterback a vote of confidence.
When asked if he ever considered starting back-up quarterback Matt Moore over Tannehill, Philbin said "we're going to get our 46 best players to the game and utilize them as best as possible."
Philbin echoed these sentiments throughout the press conference whenever Tannehill's name was brought up.
When given one last chance to commit to Tannehill, Philbin again echoed his consistent belief. "We’re going to start our game plan for Oakland when I leave here and we’re going to decide what 46 players are going and how best to utilize them."
What effects could these comments have?
The good that comes from this is that it lets Tannehill, and the rest of the team, know that bad play is unacceptable and you will be held accountable. If your play doesn't match the expectations, you will know and you will be at risk of losing your job.
The comments will (hopefully) light a fire underneath Tannehill, who hasn't been pushed or challenged for the starting spot since he won the job in his rookie season and is on pace for career lows in several statictical categories.
Creating a quarterback controversy is never a good thing for the team. The ensuing media frenzy is generally seen as a distraction, but lack of belief in a player with already-wavering confidence can be catastrophic for the player.
Tony Dungy and Jason Taylor have both commented on their disapproval.
Dungy said that "one of the first lessons I ever learned as an assistant coach working for Chuck Noll, and then Bill Walsh and Dennis Green, is that you don’t start a quarterback controversy. You’re telling everyone, ‘I’m not sure I believe in Ryan Tannehill.’"
Taylor went into more detail, saying "It’s kind of a head-scratcher to me. If you’re going to make the change, then make the change. It’s Week 3 – I don’t think that change is warranted yet. You're playing with a back-up center and rookie right tackle.... Know who your quarterback is, and if it’s Ryan Tannehill, show him that support so he can continue to grow. Don’t put that doubt in the back of his mind."
THE BOTTOM LINE
Lost in all this "controversy" is the fact that Philbin never slighted Tannehill in any way. He just declined to publically commit. Philbin has consistently followed the policy of playing the best 46 players in his time as Miami's head coach, so there's nothing new happening here.
What's also lost is the fact that football players have to deal with, and overcome, pressure and adversity all the time.
If Tannehill cannot flourish through the criticism that he is receiving than he was never the guy.
If Tannehill's confidence is too shaken from the comments from his coach, and he doesn't turn the comments into motivation to prove his doubters wrong, then he was never the guy.
If Tannehill breaks and proves he is not the one, then it's better that the revelation comes now rather than later in the season while there is still time to make changes (Matt Moore can win games).
Philbin wants to win. He knows he has to produce a winning season to keep his job. And, based on his comments, he will play the 46 players who will give him the best chance at doing that. If Tannehill is eventually benched, it will be for good reason.
Dolphins players were told that Tannehill will start Sunday when the Dolphins take on the Oakland Raiders at Wembley Stadium in London.
And he will.
But make no mistake about it, Tannehill, as someone who's performance is not meeting expectations, is on a short leash.
Can Tannehill turn his season around? Of course, we are only three games in. However, whether he does or not will have a great amount to do with his response from this recent adversity.
Philbin's comments, and Tannehill's subsequent performances on the field, are either the beginning of the deterioration of this era in Miami, or the beginning of the improvement process.