It happens at least once every game. Twitter suddenly has an influx of people who want to point to one play, one moment, to declare Ryan Tannehill a bust of a draft pick, a quarterback who cannot lead the team, and one who needs to be cut as soon as possible. On Sunday, that moment came when the Miami Dolphins got the ball back after a San Francisco 49ers touchdown and went three-and-out mid-way through the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins, starting with the ball at the San Francisco 24 yard line after a 78 yard kickoff return from Kenyan Drake, had a 17-14 lead with 7:22 remaining in the game. Tannehill lost two yards on a read-option keeper, then threw an incomplete pass to Kenny Stills on 2nd-and-12. On 3rd-and-12, Tannehill was sacked for a nine-yard loss, essentially knocking the team out of field goal range. After an intentional delay of game penalty to give Matt Darr an additional five yards of space, the Dolphins were forced to punt.
Nevermind that the defense did its job and held San Francisco to a three-and-out. Never mind the two touchdown scoring drives Tannehill directed on the team’s next two possessions to take a 31-14 lead. That sack proves that Tannehill is the wrong quarterback for the team.
A team on a six-game winning streak.
A team in Playoff position despite being in the first year under head coach Adam Gase and expectations that this team was probably - at best - a six win team. They won their seventh game on Sunday.
Never mind that Tannehill had thrown for 2,574 yards, 15 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, on 65.9 percent completion rate with a 94.7 passer rating on the season. That passer rating jumps another ten points to 104.7 over the six-game winning streak for Miami.
Tannehill is clearly the problem for the Dolphins. He put up 31 points on Sunday, but had to sit on the sideline as the defense came within six feet of allowing the 49ers to tied the game. Tannehill should have done more.
Do these people on Twitter realize how tiring the constant focus on one moment as proof of Tannehill’s faults is - especially when for 59 minutes, the rest of the evidence points against that argument?
Miami has found its franchise quarterback. They rode his right arm to a win on Sunday, and, even when Jay Ajayi is tearing up defenses for 200 rushing yards, it is Tannehill who is directing the offense. He is making smart decisions, he is being accurate with his throws, and he is finding the open receiver.
In other words, Tannehill is why this team is winning.
Tannehill is not perfect. There are times where he sails a pass or tries to force a completion where there is not one. He will try to wait for a receiver to get open, rather than using his running ability to pick up a few yards at times, leading to sack he probably should not have taken.
Even the sack to knock the team out of field goal range could deserve criticism. Tannehill probably should have found a way to throw away that pass, rather than taking a sack that knocked the team out of field goal range. But, one bad moment does not change 59 minutes of excellent play.
The Dolphins had problems on Sunday. The offensive line was without three starters and struggled to open running lanes for Ajayi, who only picked up 45 yards on 18 carries (but did score a rushing touchdown). The defense allowed 475 yards of total offense, nearly 200 of that on the ground.
None of that says “Blame Tannehill.”
The 49ers came into this game clearly daring Tannehill to throw the ball. They were stacking the box, using eight, nine, or even ten players in the box to ensure Ajayi did not beat them. Tannehill beat them instead. The dink-and-dunk offense for the Dolphins - another great argument for why Tannehill is not a franchise quarterback, the great “He Can’t Throw Deep” argument - featured a 46-yard pass to DeVante Parker, a 43-yard pass to Kenny Stills for a touchdown, and a 23-yard pass to Dion Sims. Tannehill averaged 9.5 yards per attempt on Sunday.
That does not include a 32-yard pass to Parker that was overturned because his hand touched out of bounds (though to be fair, if that catch had been ruled complete, the 43-yard pass to Stills would not have happened on the next play). It also leaves out a dime in the back of the endzone to Parker that was ruled complete then overturned on replay when Parker could not get his second foot on the ground, nor does it include passes like the 16-yard touchdown to Sims or the 15-yard touchdown to Leonte Carroo.
It also does not account for Tannehill’s 34-yards rushing.
Pro Football Focus wrote after the game of Tannehills’ performance, “This was a spectacular display of downfield passing from Ryan Tannehill, even if the final stat line doesn’t quite do his performance full justice. Fractions of an inch away from two more big plays to DeVante Parker, Tannehill still put up 174 yards and two touchdowns on throws targeted 10 or more yards down the field. Tannehill exploited a strong day in pass protection from his patchwork offensive line (pressured on just eight of his 34 dropbacks) to dice up the 49ers’ secondary with a 150.3 passer rating from a clean pocket. The 49ers’ comeback takes some of the sheen off the team performance but it should do little to deflect from what a fine performance Tannehill put up in the Dolphins’ sixth-straight victory.”
After the game, head coach Adam Gase was asked about the 49ers’ defensive game plan to try to force Tannehill to throw the ball. “That’s what we were talking on the sidelines. We noticed how they were playing early,” Gase replied. “We look at is as a little disrespectful, as they didn’t think we could really throw the ball, so we thought that was something we wanted to lean on.”
Lean on the passing game they did.
Lean on Ryan Tannehill.
Pick up a sixth-straight win thanks to riding the right arm of Tannehill. Set up the team for the Playoffs this year. And, reiterate that Tannehill is the quarterback for this team today, next week, and over the next several years.