The 2014 season is over for the Miami Dolphins. There are no scenarios left that can miraculously save their chances and foist them into the playoffs. On the bright side, there is no collapse that can occur to enrage the fan base. The problem with that is there can be adulation either. No chance to celebrate. For a 40th consecutive year, there will be no parade celebrating the Dolphins and what’s worse, no chance to hope for one.
Does that make the season a failure? Well, in some ways this season has been a cataclysmic failure, but in more important ways, it has been quietly very successful. This is not the same old Miami Dolphins that have been destroying their fans souls’ one life-force sucking season at a time. There is a real reason to hope, a real reason to believe, and a real reason to be viciously disappointed in the end result of the 2014 season. The Dolphins have a quarterback they can rely on and that is a keystone that changes the course of a franchise.
Ryan Tannehill, for whatever his perceived faults or reports of lack of locker-room support, the idea of which I find to be incredibly unlikely, has proven to be not just good enough to win, but good enough to win in big ways. I have avoided much in the way of overwrought QB talk in this space, mostly because it is boring and tired and there is too much emotion tied up in it to have a rational discourse on the matter. I have on numerous occasions spoken my belief in Tannehill, but not gotten into the minutia. I am going to save my full throated reasoning for the offseason where I am planning a long study into career paths for quarterbacks. I am, however, going to try and make a few points.
The biggest knock I hear about Tannehill is that he lacks a good deep ball. According to some, that was a problem that has carried over from college, along with the lacking of that nebulas ability to single handedly lead an inferior team against better competition to “big” wins. I will take this opportunity to say this line of reasoning, especially the latter part, is bordering on idiotic. I don’t want to just assume that the beat writer for a major publication who inflates this narrative into a story line actually believes it. He may just believe it helps sell papers, which I would have less of a problem with, but given the evidence on hand, I cannot dismiss the idea that he either does not care about facts or just has a bone to pick. Since he has been called out by multiple players in the locker room before, neither seems beyond the realm of the possible.
As to Tannehill’s deep ball issues, they are not a real thing. The sample size is too small and the results too swayed by factors outside of the quarterback’s control for an honest assessment, at least one based on an actual statistical breakdown. If you add up all of his balls over 20 yards across his three seasons, he is right around league average. More importantly, who cares? Why? Most of the best offenses in the league rely on a short to intermediate passing game and a high completion percentage in order to move the ball and score points. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is just what the Dolphins do. They are 12th in the league in scoring and after an eternity in the offensive desert, finally they seem to have found some arable land, which is when you set up roots.
As fans, we like to pretend that the next guy is going to be the savior and in Miami, we have it worse than most fan bases. Not because of the lackluster talent that has traipsed through Miami these last 14 years, but because of what came prior to that. Dan Marino is an unassailable figure when it comes to the QB position and for Dolphins fans, his level of play is the benchmark by which we judge. This is the crux of our issues. Dan Marino is not just one of the best quarterbacks of his era, but he is one of the best singular athletes in team sports history. The type of outlier he was, is almost not quantifiable. Sure, some of his peers enjoyed more team accomplishments, but not a single one of them came anywhere near his level of individual play on a consistent basis. He was peerless in his time and that almost never happens in sports.
This is the expectation of any Miami Dolphins quarterback now and it is an impossible one. To foist those expectations on Tannehill is to only set yourself up for disappointment, because he will never be Dan Marino. He can, however, be something that Marino was not - a Super Bowl Champion. He could lead the Dolphins to a championship, he is that good, maybe even more than one.
Even with those accomplishments, he won’t be as good as Marino was, but that is not the point. The point is simply this. Ryan Tannehill is better than you think and more than good enough to win championships. If you don’t understand that, then you have little hope of ever understanding football. It is either that or you have a narrative to sell and a constituency to satiate, which is just fine, selling nonsense to those who don’t know better has been a cottage industry in this country since the times of William Randolph Hurst - just don’t come looking for it from this space.
The party is over for the 2014 Miami Dolphins and it is time to start thinking about the future. There are a lot of issues on deck, from free agents to new contracts, coaching schemes that need to be evaluated and a draft to prepare for. There are many things that need to change, but for the first time in a long time, the Dolphins can move forward without first asking what are they going to do at quarterback.
That question has been put to rest.
This column was written by Ryan Winters. Follow him on Twitter: @WIntersNFL