AFC East: Russell Wilson

Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill could be down to his last season to prove he's the long-term solution. Tannehill is just 15-17 in two seasons, and Year 3 could be make-or-break for the former first-round pick.

SportsNation

Based on what you've seen, is Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill the long-term solution?

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    52%
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    15%
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    33%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,843)

But it's time for ESPN.com readers to put their analyst hat on. Here is our latest "Poll Friday" question: Do you believe Tannehill is the long-term solution? Two seasons is enough to get a firm grasp on whether Tannehill is a franchise quarterback or just another Chad Henne.

We've seen plenty of flashes from Tannehill. He can make most of the throws and showed good toughness during a trying year in Miami. Tannehill was sacked a franchise-record 58 times and didn't have a consistent running game. Yet he set career highs in most statistical categories in 2013.

Or will Tannehill flame out? He's yet to lead the Dolphins to the postseason, while other quarterbacks from the 2012 class already have. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles all have playoff berths on their resume. Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks even has a Super Bowl ring. Can Tannehill take Miami to the next level?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on whether Tannehill is the future quarterback in Miami. You can share your thoughts in the comment section below or send a message via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.

Double Coverage: Dolphins at Colts

September, 12, 2013
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Luck-Tannehill Getty ImagesSecond-year quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill face off in Indianapolis on Sunday.

The Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts are two undefeated teams trying to establish themselves in the AFC. Both have young quarterbacks with promise and solid second-year head coaches.

Indianapolis beat Miami last year, 23-20, in an exciting matchup in which quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill both played well.

But who will win this season’s matchup? ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and ESPN.com Dolphins reporter James Walker weigh in.

Wells: Sunday will come down to which quarterback from the Class of 2012 -- Luck or Tannehill -- can limit his mistakes. And I’m sure we’ll talk about them before we end this conversation, but before that, James, we have to address the Mike Wallace situation. It seems like Wallace was being selfish by making Sunday’s win over Cleveland all about him because he only had one catch. For a Dolphins team that’s had only one winning season since 2006, Sunday should have been about getting a nice road victory to open the season. Not about Wallace. I know Wallace cleared up his comments Monday, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point. Is that a sign of things to come out of Wallace, the $60-million man?

Walker: The situation was not ideal, but I thought the Dolphins did a masterful job putting the Wallace issue to bed during the week. Miami’s coaches supported Wallace’s competitiveness and desire to make an impact. Wallace also clarified that he was more upset at himself, and I expect he will be extra motivated to have a big game. Speed kills in domes, and I don’t think there will be a faster player in Sunday’s game than Wallace. Look for Miami to find more creative ways to get him the football in the event the Colts consistently double Wallace, which was Cleveland’s strategy. Speaking of strategy, I was surprised to see how much Indianapolis struggled last week with the Oakland Raiders. The Colts trailed Oakland at home with less than 6 minutes left in the game. Was this first-game jitters and what needs to be fixed?

Wells: You weren’t the only one surprised. I think most people were, especially when you look back at the Colts’ first two offensive series. They scored with ease and all indications pointed to Luck having a special day after he started 11-of-11 with two touchdowns. But you have to give credit to Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor. He did an excellent job creating with his feet. He kept the Colts off balance and his team in the game until Luck became the hero. Tannehill is a more traditional quarterback. Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson are the quarterbacks everybody talks about from 2012 -- and they should be talked about after they led their teams to the playoffs -- but do you get a sense down there in South Florida that Tannehill has the tools and work ethic to close gap on the three QBs I just mentioned?

Walker: I really like Tannehill’s tools, Mike. He can make all the throws, has good mobility and feet as a former college wide receiver, and he doesn’t get rattled often. Those are all qualities you want in a quarterback. He looks the part, but I still need to see him win consistently. What was interesting about last week’s win over Cleveland is Tannehill took over the game in the third and fourth quarters. Last year Tannehill played not to lose games. Last week Tannehill went out and won the game. That’s probably the biggest thing that separates Tannehill from Luck and other members you mentioned from the 2012 quarterback draft class. Tannehill can certainly learn from Luck and his fourth-quarter comebacks. Mike, where is Luck in his development in Year 2?

Wells: Everybody talks about sophomore slumps with players. You should go ahead and look elsewhere because that won’t be the case with Luck. He refuses to settle. The only thing he wants to talk about is getting better. That’s what you like to hear from your franchise player. Luck likely won’t pass for as many as yards this season because the Colts are putting an emphasis on the running game with Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw. Those two players should take a significant load off Luck’s shoulders. But it won’t be easy for Luck this weekend. Miami’s defense looked pretty good last week against the Browns. Six sacks and three interceptions. What makes the defense so dangerous?

Walker: The Dolphins focused in the offseason and training camp on forcing turnovers and pressuring the quarterback. The work clearly paid off with the stats you mentioned. But perhaps the most impressive stat is Miami hit Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden 16 times, which included the six sacks. The Dolphins’ front seven is both fast and physical. They have a deep rotation on the defensive line. For example, No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan is a backup who only gets limited snaps. Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has done a good job and really likes the group he has. I think the best way for Miami to beat the Colts is the rattle Luck, force turnovers and try to make it a low-scoring game.

Ryan TannehillAP Photo/Wilfredo LeeRyan Tannehill hopes to be the next quarterback from the 2012 class to lead his team to the playoffs.
DAVIE, Fla. -- NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino showed up to Miami Dolphins' minicamp on Wednesday. There was no major announcement or holding court with the media. Marino simply arrived, kept close tabs on second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the offense, then quietly left about two hours into practice.

Marino's mere presence was symbolic of the pressure Tannehill faces in Miami. No Dolphins quarterback has come close to filling the large shoes of Marino after he retired after the 1999 season. Miami’s quarterbacks in this millennium have either been awful (Cleo Lemon, Joey Harrington), former draft busts (Chad Henne, John Beck) or caretakers who couldn’t consistently take over games (Chad Pennington, Jay Fiedler).

But something appears different about Tannehill. He is more Marino than Harrington in arm strength and physical ability. The 2012 first-round pick was also taken higher than Henne, but you don’t get that same feeling of bust potential. Unlike Fiedler, Tannehill has already demonstrated that he can take over a game and explode for 400 yards, as he did in September in an overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

But what are realistic expectations for Tannehill in Year 2? Fellow rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson each led their teams to the playoffs last season. Tannehill showed promise but was a couple of notches behind his peers. He threw for 3,294 yards but had more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12). Tannehill also had a losing record (7-9) and was left on the outside looking in during the postseason.

However, the Dolphins are showing the same confidence in Tannehill that the Indianapolis Colts are showing with Luck or the Washington Redskins are with RG III. More than anything, Miami’s coaching staff said, they love Tannehill’s work ethic and mental approach. Combine that with Tannehill’s athleticism and ability to make all the throws, and the Dolphins believe the sky is the limit for their young quarterback.

“One thing about Ryan is he never gets too high and he never gets too low,” Miami quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor told the AFC East blog this week. “Last year things never got too big for him. It’s not that he never made mistakes -- there were drives and stretches here and there. But I don’t think it ever got too big where he totally broke down, and that’s encouraging for a rookie quarterback. With all the looks that he saw, I thought he handled it pretty well.”

Taylor was a former assistant coach at Texas A&M and has been around Tannehill since he was 19. Taylor watched Tannehill, 24, grow from a redshirt freshman who played receiver his first two years in college to an NFL quarterback with high expectations. According to Taylor, Tannehill is much more comfortable in his position as a building block in Miami.

It was noticeable in organized team activities and minicamp that Tannehill is in control of the offense. He’s more vocal with teammates and has a quiet confidence that this is his team.

Miami is in search of leaders after several veterans like Reggie Bush, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were released or didn’t return in free agency. Tannehill is one of the young, inexperienced players who must fill that void.

“It’s night and day compared to last year,” Tannehill said of his standing on the team. “Just the confidence and the knowledge of the game and what is going on. I still have a lot of work to do, but I am comfortable with where I am at and where this team is at. Anything we can do to get better, myself included, it’s easier to build this year compared to last year.”

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
AP Photo/J Pat CarterThe Dolphins opened up their wallet to bolster their offense, including giving Mike Wallace a five-year, $60 million deal.
Tannehill has all the tools to succeed this year. The Dolphins have put together as nurturing an environment as possible to ensure Tannehill takes the next step in his development. Miami spent $60 million to land free-agent receiver Mike Wallace and an additional $15 million total to land starting tight end Dustin Keller and slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Tannehill now has deep speed at receiver and a safety valve at tight end that he lacked last season. The Dolphins were 26th in passing in 2012 and scored only 18 points per game.

If minicamp is any indication, the Dolphins will not be afraid to air it out this year. Tannehill is taking his shots deep and throwing the football all over the field in practices. Tannehill is also routinely making more checks and changes at the line of scrimmage to get out of bad plays, an area where he struggled in 2012.

“He can see a safety start to creep up or lean a certain way, or a linebacker's depth from the line of scrimmage from the heels of his defensive lineman,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “Determining whether we turn and protect there or do we go the other way because that guy is in coverage, which I think [is] more recognition of defenses. ... We threw the book at him last year in the hopes that he would get to a point where we are at right now, where now he is just focused and not so much on the offense but on the defense.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Sherman and Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin know what a talented quarterback looks like. They have coached future Hall of Famers Brett Favre (Sherman) and Aaron Rodgers (Philbin) during their stints with the Green Bay Packers and know how to make it easy for quarterbacks. The fact that they both view Tannehill as a franchise starter carries a lot of weight.

“They’re able to relate those experiences with Ryan and the struggles [Favre and Rodgers] had and the success they were eventually able to achieve,” Taylor said. “So they’ve kind of seen the step-by-step process those guys took and [are] able to use that to relate it to Ryan.”

The Dolphins are going all-in with Tannehill, and much is expected this season. On paper, Miami looks like a team ready to make a playoff push in 2013, and much of that will come down to Tannehill’s development and improvement.

Tannehill may not get the same press and national attention as other quarterbacks in his draft class, but his goals are the same.

“Ryan wants to win Super Bowls at the end of the day,” Taylor said. “I do think he has a long ways to go right now. He knows that. So every day he’s just trying to become a better player, and be better than the day before and don’t make the same mistake twice.

“What that ceiling is, it’s hard to predict. Time will tell.”
The New York Jets are in full rebuilding mode in 2013. That is why it makes sense for the Jets to hand the ball to rookie quarterback Geno Smith sooner than later.

Smith, a second-round pick and the second quarterback taken in this year's draft, is competing with incumbent Mark Sanchez for the starting job in New York. But will success by last year's rookie quarterbacks place unfair pressure on Smith and others to perform well immediately?

The stellar 2012 quarterback class led by Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson all took their teams to the playoffs in their first seasons. Two other rookie quarterbacks --Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden -- started 16 and 15 games, respectively, and put up decent numbers. Fair or unfair, the bar has been raised for Smith, EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills and other rookie quarterbacks to produce immediately when they get their chance.

"Those guys have done great and I’m happy for them, but I have my own task," Smith recently told reporters about the 2012 quarterback class. "I’m going to continue to handle things the way I have always done, which is to keep working hard. I don’t worry about those things, I don’t worry about what the next guy did. That’s not for me to do. That’s not my job. I’m just here to work hard and here to try and help my team."

Smith has as good a chance as any rookie quarterback to win the starting job in Week 1. Sanchez led the NFL in turnovers the past two seasons, and reportedly some in the locker room feels it's time for a change.

The Jets are switching to a West Coast scheme under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. The quarterback who grasps the offense best will have the advantage. So far both quarterbacks have had their moments in organized team activities.

"I think he’s done well," Sanchez said of Smith. "He works hard. He’s done his best to get completions like we all are."

Rookie quarterbacks like Luck, RG III and Wilson were the exception, not the rule. The bar certainly has been raised. But do not expect a lightning-fast turnaround and immediate playoff results from this year's quarterback class.
Ryan TannehillRonald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins have surrounded young QB Ryan Tannehill with big-name talent this offseason.
The Miami Dolphins are the darlings of the offseason. They entered free agency with more than $40 million of cap room and cleaned up by signing the best receiver on the market (Mike Wallace), the top-rated linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe), a pass-catching tight end (Dustin Keller), another athletic linebacker (Philip Wheeler), and kept their own starting players (Brian Hartline, Randy Starks, Chris Clemons).

On paper, the Dolphins look like a clear playoff contender and the only legitimate challenger to the New England Patriots in the AFC East. The sky could be the limit for Miami this season and beyond.

But there is one catch for the Dolphins: None of this is possible unless second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes the next step.

The Dolphins proceeded this offseason with full confidence that Tannehill is a franchise quarterback. It’s a calculated risk after Tannehill had a promising rookie season where his stats didn't necessarily stand out. He threw for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and made his share of rookie mistakes.

However, Miami believes Tannehill showed enough flashes of brilliance to go all-in with him. He played winning football most weeks, and led the Dolphins to a better-than-expected 7-9 record.

There is no time for Tannehill to be a one-hit wonder or have a sophomore slump in 2013. A majority of Miami’s moves in free agency were about making Tannehill a better quarterback.

“Ryan has got 35, 36 games under his belt as starting quarterback combined from a college and pro career, and you would normally like to have 35 games under your belt as a graduating senior,” Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said recently. “So I think that there is a bunch of upside left in Ryan’s potential, and I like what I see so far. I love his intangible makeup, I love his athletic skill set. We have a long way to go, he knows that, but he can get a lot better, I am very confident in that.”

The Dolphins committed $30 million guaranteed to get Tannehill a legitimate deep threat and No. 1 receiver in Wallace. Despite Tannehill's strong arm, Miami was limited with the deep ball last season because of a poor supporting cast. He completed only 14 passes of more than 20 yards last season. Wallace has elite speed and should be able to change that.

Miami also snagged Keller from the rival New York Jets, and former St. Louis Rams receiver Brandon Gibson. Keller is the safety valve Miami lacked at tight end, and Gibson brings another weapon to add to a strong group of receivers that already includes Wallace, Hartline and Davone Bess.

The Dolphins learned when you have a potential franchise quarterback, it's easier to recruit free agents. Gibson, Keller and Wallace all cited Tannehill as one of the key reasons they signed with Miami.

“I watch tons of film and I really think he’s going to be one of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL,” Gibson said. “He’s got a big arm, and he’s very intelligent and a very good athlete, and I think that can go a long ways.”

Keller played with embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez in New York for four seasons. Keller leaves the Jets for a quarterback in Miami with a much higher ceiling.

“I’m very impressed with him. I like his game a lot,” Keller said of Tannehill. “I think now you put a Mike Wallace on the team, re-sign Brian Hartline, I love Davone Bess in the slot. You’ve got Charles Clay there working at tight end, too. I think there’s a lot people that they’re going to help him thrive this year, and I’m just happy to be one of the pieces.”

Tannehill is significantly ahead of the curve. The Dolphins' initial plan last season was to let Tannehill sit while Matt Moore or David Garrard ran the team. Instead, Tannehill took advantage of injuries and opportunity and started all 16 games.

In fact, Tannehill’s Total Quarterback Rating, which measures a player's complete performance, was better last season than other big-name quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford. The Dolphins believe Tannehill is just getting started.

Tannehill also flew under the radar last season with a potentially special 2012 quarterback class. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks all shared the spotlight while leading their teams to the playoffs. Tannehill was the only rookie of the four not to lead his team to the playoffs, but those expectations will rise for Miami next season.

"We're looking for improvement from him. There's no question about it," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said at the NFL’s owners meetings. “Part of it’s the decision-making that we think is so important. Part of it’s accuracy. Part of it’s play-making ability at critical times in the course of a game. While we think he made some really nice strides in his first year, there’s still a long way to go, and he’s well aware of that.”

The 2013 Dolphins will be Tannehill’s team, and certainly Tannehill’s offense.

An important part of Tannehill’s sophomore season is that he must take more of a leadership role. The Dolphins are a young team that lost a lot of leadership this offseason. Left tackle Jake Long and running back Reggie Bush bolted in free agency, and linebacker Karlos Dansby was released.

Tannehill will lead one of the youngest teams in the NFL next season. He doesn't get the publicity of fellow draft mates Luck, Wilson and RG III, but he will be just as important to the success of his team.

AFC East links: Grading the Patriots

February, 7, 2013
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Buffalo Bills

Brad Smith is trying his hand at something new this offseason.

Ryan Nassib is just one of several quarterbacks the Bills are looking at as the draft draws closer.

Miami Dolphins

Watching fellow 2012 draft picks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson reach the postseason as rookies serves as motivation for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “I’m confident in what we can do here in Miami going into the future,” said Tannehill. “I think going into the year outside people didn’t really have any expectations for us but we had expectations for ourselves. Obviously, we came up short but we were right there down to the end. We wish we could have won some of those close games early on in the year that we felt like we should have won, so moving forward we’re excited about the opportunity we have and the guys that we have on the team.”

Is it time for Miami to part ways with defensive end Jared Odrick? The answer is yes, according to The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero.

New England Patriots

The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard hands out his grades for the 2012 season.

The Patriots have some important decisions to make when it comes to their in-house free agents.

New York Jets

Count safety LaRon Landry among those who "would have loved" to see Tim Tebow throw the ball more this past season.

General manager John Idzik has some work to do to get his team under the salary cap.
Now that the New York Jets have hired a new general manager, the next big question is: Can former Seattle Seahawks executive John Idzik find a quarterback to compete with or supplant Mark Sanchez?

There is a backup in Seattle who should now catch New York's attention: Matt Flynn. Idzik was part of a front office that liked Flynn enough to sign the quarterback to a three-year, $19.5 million contract. It turns out Seattle drafted a better quarterback in rookie standout Russell Wilson. That makes Flynn a tradable asset this offseason.

The Jets will definitely be in the market for a quarterback. Sanchez had four years to prove he was the long-term solution and regressed. He is due $8.25 million in guaranteed salary next season. However, that doesn’t mean a starting job is secured.

Many have mentioned the idea of a straight-up trade involving Flynn and Sanchez, but I doubt that would happen. Pete Carroll was Sanchez's college coach at USC, but that doesn't mean Carroll and the Seahawks are willing to pay $8.25 million in 2013 for a struggling backup.

The Seahawks are smarter than that. If Idzik and the Jets want Flynn bad enough, Seattle would be better served securing a quality draft pick (or two) in order to continue building its team.

Bills can save by cutting Fitzpatrick

December, 22, 2012
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Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick might be playing his final two games in a Buffalo Bills uniform.

According to the details of Fitzpatrick's $59 million contract extension, the Bills are in prime position to get out of this agreement after another inconsistent season.

ESPN.com's AFC East blog has learned Buffalo will save $4.45 million in cap space and $7.45 million in actual cash by cutting Fitzpatrick this offseason. Fitzpatrick is due a base salary of $4.25 million and an easy-to-obtain workout bonus of $200,000 in 2013.

However, the biggest litmus test will be a $3 million roster bonus Fitzpatrick is owed in March on the second day of the league year. If the Bills pay the bonus, Fitzpatrick's cap number jumps to $10.45 million next season, which would be suitable for a franchise quarterback.

Fitzpatrick is 18-30 as a starter in Buffalo and has the third most turnovers in the NFL since 2011. The Bills (5-9) must seriously consider this offseason whether he's the long-term solution. Buffalo already paid Fitzpatrick $21.25 million since signing him to an extension in October 2011. That included a $10 million signing bonus last year and a $5 million option bonus this year.

Bills general manager Buddy Nix publicly discussed upgrading the quarterback position several times in recent weeks. He does not sound like a general manager willing to stick with Fitzpatrick as his starting quarterback for $7.45 million next season.

Regardless of the Fitzpatrick decision, the Bills are expected to add a quarterback via free agency or the draft next offseason. One prospect to keep an eye on for the Bills is North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon, who is a player Nix personally scouted during the college season. Glennon is the 36th-ranked prospect by Scouts Inc. and might get some first-round consideration based on his pre-draft workouts.

Glennon was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's backup at North Carolina State early in his career. But Glennon took over for the Wolfpack his junior and senior seasons and threw for 6,702 yards and 62 touchdowns in two years.

The Bills will travel to face the Miami Dolphins (6-8) at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.

Bills have bigger problems than Toronto

December, 19, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills (5-9) would not have won Sunday's game whether it was played in Toronto, Ralph Wilson Stadium or a high school field.

That's how bad the Bills were during a listless, 50-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Fixing those problems should be their primary focus.

Instead, Buffalo center Eric Wood created national headlines Wednesday by calling the Bills series of games in Toronto "a joke." I’ve heard similar grumblings from Buffalo players in the past, although certainly not as strong. The fact is that many Bills players feel they are cheated of a true home game -- and it’s a legitimate point. The Bills are 1-4 all-time during the Toronto series.

But let's not let the location of Sunday's game deflect from the fact the Bills were sloppy and disorganized. Buffalo didn't bother showing up, and that's a problem. Seattle led 31-7 a quarter and a half into the game.

The Bills have coaching issues. The Bills have quarterback issues. Based on Week 15, the Bills may have effort issues. Playing in Toronto had nothing to do with Ryan Fitzpatrick's three turnovers or the defense looking helpless as Russell Wilson ran circles around them.

The Toronto series was a business move by Bills ownership that hasn't been great in terms of fan turnout. But an extended agreement is in place until 2017.

Bills players need to get their minds off Toronto and focus on playing better football.

Does Tannehill lack the clutch gene?

December, 13, 2012
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The quarterback class of 2012 could be one of the deepest in recent memory. The Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck), Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III) and Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson) are all happy with their rookies. There is a strong chance two or three of these quarterbacks will lead their teams to the playoffs.

The Miami Dolphins (5-8) feel they have a good rookie quarterback, too, in No. 8 overall pick Ryan Tannehill. However, there’s something with Tannehill that really stands out: Tannehill drastically trails his rookie counterparts in fourth-quarter comebacks.

Is Tannehill not clutch?

Tannehill has the lowest Total Quarterback Rating of all four rookie quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins have five losses by seven or fewer points this season. Tannehill's inconsistent play in fourth quarters is a major reason.



Despite throwing for a lot of fourth-quarter yards, it hasn't resulted in victories for Tannehill. His only fourth-quarter comeback came against the Seattle Seahawks at home in Week 12.

Tannehill failed to produce in the clutch in recent losses to the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts. If any of these games had a different outcome, Miami would still be in wild-card contention.

Tannehill is a young player who only had 19 career starts in college. He's learning on the job, but so are Luck, RGIII and Wilson. Tannehill's inability to come through in the clutch is concerning, but it's still too early to make a firm determination.

Dolphins make December meaningful again

November, 25, 2012
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Ryan Tannehill Steve Mitchell/US PresswireQuarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins could be headed towards a playoff run.
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins will have a meaningful December game next week against the reigning AFC champion New England Patriots.

Let that sink in for a second.

The Dolphins have come a long way in just a few short months. That was evident on Sunday when Miami pulled off a 24-21 upset victory over the Seattle Seahawks (6-5) at Sun Life Stadium. Miami improved to 5-6 and, at the very least, set the table for an interesting final month of the season.

It has been a crazy roller-coaster ride for Miami that started in July and was documented during HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series. Four months later, that same Miami team that was a national laughingstock in the summer finds itself in the thick of the wild-card race in late fall.

Many, including the AFC East blog, picked Miami to finish last in the division. Instead, the Dolphins are just one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) and Cincinnati Bengals (6-5) for the sixth seed in the AFC. Miami beat Cincinnati earlier this year and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker if it came down to it.

How did this happen?

It starts with character and toughness. The Dolphins might lack talent on paper, but they make up for it with effort and a no-quit attitude most weeks on the field. All of that was on display during Sunday's come-from-behind win.

“I think you’re going to have growth when you put in as much work as we do,” Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline said. “If you’re not growing and you’re not making improvements, then a lot of that work is being wasted. It just shows we’re taking that work from the practice field to the game.”

Whether these young Dolphins make the playoffs is insignificant. The accomplishment is merely getting to this point.

The Dolphins are playing with house money in the final five weeks. No one expects Miami to make the postseason, especially with its brutal upcoming schedule. If the Dolphins do make it, that would be icing on their cake.

But this once-downtrodden franchise proved in the first 11 games that Miami is back on the upswing. The turnaround won’t happen overnight, but you can steadily see more and more seeds for success being planted.

This week’s lesson was handling adversity.

After losing three straight, the Dolphins trailed by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter and could have accepted a fourth straight loss. Instead, Miami showed its resilience by scoring 10 unanswered points in the final eight minutes to win a tough game.

“Character is built through experiences like having a three-game losing streak,” Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “[Sunday] showed our resolve. We played well and we came out and played together.”

The Dolphins can go only as far as rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes them. Many didn’t think Tannehill would play at all in his rookie season. But he won his fifth start Sunday and passed Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the most passing yards (2,373) by a Miami rookie.

Tannehill outdueled fellow rookie Russell Wilson by throwing for 253 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Tannehill saved his best for a seven-play, 70-yard drive in the final 1:32 of the game.

Tannehill was 3-for-5 on the final drive and rushed for 15 yards to keep Miami marching down the field. He moved the Dolphins to Seattle’s 29-yard line to set up Dan Carpenter’s 43-yard winning field goal.

“With Tannehill back there at quarterback, we have so much confidence that he will win us the game,” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said. “And that’s why, no matter what happens, we win or we lose, we’re always going to believe in him because he’s a great football player.”

Miami’s magic carpet ride probably won’t last long. The Patriots, who have won five straight, are coming to town as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. New England is averaging 47.5 points in its past four games.

Miami doesn’t have the firepower or talent to compete with New England, which is undefeated against the AFC East this season. It will take a near-perfect performance by the Dolphins to pull off this kind of monumental upset.

But Sunday’s come-from-behind win against a solid Seattle team -- which beat New England this year -- certainly raised a few eyebrows. The Dolphins will enter the Week 13 game with a lot of confidence.

"When you look at it, every game is a playoff game from now on," Dolphins linebacker Kevin Burnett said. "Now is the time, and this is it. … We are tough. You have to play dang-near flawless to beat us."

 

MIAMI -- Here are some thoughts on the Miami Dolphins’ 24-21 victory over the Seattle Seahawks:

What it means: The Dolphins improve to 5-6 and snap a three-game losing streak. Seattle is a tough team that owns victories over the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. So this victory by the Dolphins counts as one of the best of the season. It shows the Dolphins are not going to lie down the rest of the season and are still mathematically in the playoff hunt. At the very least, Miami has something to play for in December.

Tannehill edges Wilson: Sunday’s game presented an underrated battle of rookie quarterbacks. Seattle third-round pick Russell Wilson showed his athleticism and elusiveness. He threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for an additional 38 yards. Ryan Tannehill overcame some early adversity and showed mental toughness. He threw for 253 yards, one touchdown and an interception. But Tannehill did his best work on the final drive by getting Miami in field goal position. Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter nailed a 44-yard field goal to end the game. Tannehill improved to 1-1 against fellow rookie quarterbacks this season. He lost to Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts in October.

AFC East flashback: Former New York Jets tailback Leon Washington, now with the Seahawks, stuck it to his former rival with a big play in the fourth quarter. Washington returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Washington played many games in Miami as a member of the Jets and probably enjoyed producing against his former division rival.

Run defense returns: Miami’s usually stout run defense has fallen off in recent weeks. But the Dolphins made it a point to stuff Seattle tailback Marshawn Lynch. The Dolphins held Lynch to just 46 yards on 19 carries.

What’s next: The Dolphins continue their toughest stretch of the season. Next week they host the reigning AFC champion Patriots (8-3) at Sun Life Stadium.

Initial thoughts on Tannehill vs. Wilson

November, 21, 2012
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We have an underrated rookie quarterback battle that will take place in Miami on Sunday.

Wilson
Tannehill
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Miami Dolphins first-round pick Ryan Tannehill will duel with Seattle Seahawks third-round pick Russell Wilson. Both are members of the extremely productive quarterback class of 2012, which is already getting rave reviews.

While No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III get most of the rookie hype this year, Tannehill and Wilson have quietly produced. Tannehill and Wilson have been under the radar but quietly led their respective teams to 10 combined wins already this season. By comparison, Luck and RG3 also have 10 combined wins.

The interesting part is both Tannehill and Wilson were not expected to start right away. Tannehill entered training camp as the No. 3 quarterback behind veterans Matt Moore and David Garrard. But Garrard’s injury allowed more opportunity for Tannehill to compete with Moore. The rookie’s natural ability shined through to make Tannehill the Week 1 starter.

Wilson entered training camp as a mid-round pick and an underdog to free-agent signing Matt Flynn. Seattle signed Flynn to a multi-year contract with the expectation that he would be the starter. Instead, Wilson beat out Flynn this summer and has put Seattle in playoff contention.

Tannehill and Luck put on a show during their meeting in Week 9. The two rookies combined for more than 700 passing yards in Indianapolis' 23-20 victory.

Do not expect the same type of shootout Sunday between Tannehill and Wilson. But the performance of both rookie quarterbacks will have a big part in whether Miami or Seattle walks out of Sun Life Stadium with a victory.

Final Word: AFC East

November, 9, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are five nuggets of knowledge for Week 10:

Spiller time: If the Buffalo Bills have any chance of pulling off a monumental upset of the New England Patriots, the Bills must get C.J. Spiller involved. Spiller is Buffalo’s most dynamic player but doesn’t get enough touches. He leads the NFL with 7.2 yards per attempt but had only six carries in last week’s loss to the Houston Texans. Spiller is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the football. New England’s defense must account for him.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
AP Photo/Jon FerreySeveral injured Patriots, including Wes Welker, were helped by the bye week.
Healthy returns: The bye week helped the Patriots with several injuries. Receiver Wes Welker (ankle) and cornerback Kyle Arrington (head) were injured in a win against the St. Louis Rams. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (hip) and tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) didn’t play in the game. The time off should help the Patriots get back most of these key players Sunday against Buffalo.

New and improved Tebow: The New York Jets said that during the bye week, they would figure out how to get backup quarterback Tim Tebow more involved in the offense. New York (3-5) plans to unleash more Tebow in a tough road game against the Seattle Seahawks. Tebow was mostly a dud in the first eight games. He hasn’t done much on offense but successfully converted on several fake punts on special teams. On Sunday we will see what the Jets came up with.

Rookie vs. Rex: Jets head coach Rex Ryan is a longtime defensive coordinator who has made a habit of battering rookie quarterbacks. Look no further than Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who lost his first meeting against the Jets and was knocked out of the second game in the first quarter. Ryan’s defense gets another rookie this weekend in Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Expect plenty of blitzes and exotic looks to confuse and get in the face of Wilson, who has won five games this season. The Jets’ best chance to pull the upset is to stop the run and bring the kitchen sink at Wilson to see whether he can beat New York with his arm.

Quick turnaround: The Dolphins (4-4) have an important two-game stretch that could determine their season. Miami hosts the Tennessee Titans on Sunday and travels to play Buffalo on Thursday. The Dolphins have a chance to take two winnable games in five days. The Dolphins could quickly be 6-4 if they take care of business. Miami also could be 4-6 if it loses focus.

Walker's AFC East picks

October, 13, 2012
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The AFC East blog still has it going making picks. I'm back to stellar this week with an overall record of 15-2 predicting division games.

We have a tricky slate of AFC East games. Let's get right to it.

St. Louis Rams (3-2) at Miami Dolphins (2-3), Sunday at 1 p.m. ET

Skinny: The Dolphins are coming off a big road win and need to protect the home turf. The Rams had 10 days to prepare, but the Dolphins grind out this one before the bye week.

Pick: Dolphins, 17-14

Indianapolis Colts (2-2) at New York Jets (2-3), Sunday at 1 p.m. ET

Skinny: This is a must-win game if the Jets are to keep their season afloat. It’s rare that a team loses three home games in a row.

Pick: Jets, 16-13

Buffalo Bills (2-3) at Arizona Cardinals (4-1), Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET

Skinny: The Bills match up well against Arizona in several areas, particularly with the Cardinals’ offensive line struggling and injuries at tailback. But I don’t feel comfortable picking the Bills right now with the way they are playing.

Pick: Cardinals, 23-17

New England Patriots (3-2) at Seattle Seahawks (3-2), Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET

Skinny: The Patriots are playing extremely fast, which they will need to do in this tough road game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be the difference against Seattle rookie Russell Wilson.

Pick: Patriots, 30-21

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