The NFL playoffs will begin on Saturday afternoon, and for the fifth consecutive year, the Miami Dolphins will not be apart of them. Just when it appeared things would be different — when the Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots in thrilling fashion less than three weeks ago — one of the biggest collapses in franchise history ensued.
Not only did Miami fall to the hands of the already eliminated Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, but they do so in an embarrassingly inept way, scoring a grand total of seven points and seemingly snatching irrelevancy from the jaws of success. To make matters worse, it appears the Dolphins may stick to the path in which said disaster was thought to have culminated. Owner Stephen Ross had yet to fire GM Jeff Ireland or any member of the team’s coaching staff as of Thursday night.
Make no mistake about it, these are dark days for the franchise — bleak days that have abruptly interrupted what appeared to be a revival of sorts. Days that have undoubtedly made loyalty to the team excruciatingly taxing for fans.
The Dolphins are once again stationed at rock bottom, only this time, they have a quarterback.
Winning in the NFL requires more than just a quarterback — something the Dolphins made quite obvious in 2013 — but having one is unquestionably the most pivotal key in any team’s effort to build a perennial contender. Ryan Tannehill and the season he just had has given the Dolphins and their faithful hope for the future.
No quarterback not named Dan Marino in team history has ever thrown for as many passing yards or touchdown passes in one season than what Tannehill produced in his second year at the helm. His 3,913 passing yards rank ninth and his 24 touchdown passes rank 10th in franchise history.
Obviously, every quarterback that played for the Dolphins in the era before Marino didn’t pass nearly as often as teams do in today’s NFL, and arguably only about two Miami quarterbacks who played after No. 13 retired were starting caliber. Still, Tannehill’s production was promising.
Even more promising was his ability to rise to the occasion in clutch situations. Franchise quarterbacks get better the bigger the moment. Tannehill did just that, to the tune of leading four fourth-quarter comeback victories in his sophomore season. He dropped dimes into tight widows when the pressure to do so would have been unbearable to many.
Yes, Tannehill came up small in the final two games, as did the entire roster and coaching staff, and he left multiple touchdowns on the field by under and overthrowing Mike Wallace throughout the year, but he’s still a young quarterback who was forced to carry an otherwise putrid offense.
Many would argue that it was remarkable that he was productive at all given the lack of pass protection and balance he often fell victim to. No quarterback in the entire NFL or franchise history was sacked as many times as Tannehill was this season. The 58 times he was brought down would have fractured the confidence, or something literal, of many other young passers, but not Tannehill, who hung tough all year long, rarely succumbing to jitters or impaired decision-making.
Miami’s offense was also an unbalanced one. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman too often abandoned the run, and the team’s makeshift line was dominated in the trenches while its mediocre backs did little to make defenders miss. In all, the Dolphins ranked 26th in rushing yards and produced a few of the lowest single-game rushing totals in club history.
Drops also impeded Tannehill’s production. 403 yards — not including any potential run after the catch — were lost on 33 dropped passes by Miami receivers this season, which ranked as the third most in the entire NFL.
Needless to say, the Miami offense wasn’t an ideal environment for the growth of a young quarterback in 2013. Still, Tannehill grew. He didn’t improve enough to mask all of the Dolphins’ flaws, but he progressed despite them, which was a promising feat.
It might not be clear how good Tannehill is until the Dolphins equip the offense with a respectable line and running game, but he was solid in 2013 without either. That alone is reason to be hopeful for the future in Miami, even in dire days such as these. Sometimes it’s darkest just before the dawn.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.