For a little more than three quarters of the football game, quarterback Ryan Tannehill was near flawless. Most will be tempted to say that Tannehill began cracking immediately after halftime. The tape does not support that conclusion.
Tannehill executed a long drive at the beginning of the third quarter that should have netted the Dolphins a touchdown. On 2nd-and-2, he threw a perfect pass to the outside shoulder of wide receiver Mike Wallace, who lined up in the slot and ran vertically while drifting to the outside above the perimeter corner’s short zone. Wallace dropped the ball, which would have given the offense a 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
On the following 3rd-and-2, the Patriots sent double A-gap pressure up the middle with their linebackers. The Dolphins had a bunch formation to Tannehill’s right with receiver Rishard Matthews set to break into the flat for a potential first down.
Instead of staying in to block the extra pressure, tailback Lamar Miller released out on a quick pass pattern. The line adjusted to block the two blitzing linebackers, which meant left defensive end Rob Ninkovich would come into the backfield untouched.
Tannehill looked for Matthews to recognize the blitz and break into the flat early, but Matthews appeared not to adjust his route. This left Tannehill to contend with an unblocked Ninkovich on his own, which he did beautifully by making him miss.
However, right guard John Jerry failed to engage the linebacker who stunted over top of him. That linebacker took advantage of Tannehill’s vulnerability while making Ninkovich miss, taking him down for a sack.
One play later, the Dolphins missed a field goal. Many believe that missed field goal was the beginning of the end for Miami.
The Dolphins had several opportunities to punch back between that point and the point at which they went down by 10 points with only seven minutes remaining. During this stretch, Tannehill threw several balls on the mark only to find them falling incomplete.
Two throws went incomplete due to poor chemistry with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline on back-shoulder fades. Another throw fell incomplete due to poor awareness by rookie tight end Dion Sims. There was also a tough no-catch by receiver Rishard Matthews, who could not quite get both feet inbounds after a beautiful third-down hookup.
On the third-quarter sack-fumble, the television analysts did a good job explaining that the lack of blocking chemistry on the left side likely resulted in a blitzer being allowed to take a free shot at Tannehill’s blind side. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was most likely expected to fan out to the blitzer and get in his way, but his inexperience with Miami’s playbook resulted in the sack.
The interception in the fourth quarter that directly preceded Miami’s falling behind by 10 points was the first big mistake Tannehill made during the game. Tannehill attempted to use his eyes to freeze the deep safety to the middle of the field.
However, it did not work as there was no threat to the middle of the field among Miami’s route-runners. Instead of noticing that the safety had squatted over top of Wallace, Tannehill threw an ill-fated deep ball that was intercepted.
The following drive, Tannehill was placed in a situation no quarterback succeeds in consistently, down two scores with only seven minutes remaining in the game. The situation was not impossible, but the offense was, once again, plagued by mistakes.
Hartline popped up a football on first down, which could have been intercepted. McKinnie was too athletically limited to get out to a free blitzer to his side which put pressure on Tannehill and forced a bad throw to Rishard Matthews.
Left guard Richie Incognito let rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones beat him quickly off the snap on first down, causing a sack. On 3rd-and-3, Ninkovich was, once again, allowed to come into the backfield untouched while none of the receivers broke off their routes to serve as an early outlet for Tannehill.
The most concerning development in the game for Tannehill was the fumble in the third quarter. The sack was not necessarily his fault, as McKinnie most likely needed to fan out to the blitzer and delay him long enough for Tannehill to throw the football. The blitzer came on Tannehill’s blind side at full speed, so the concept of “feeling the pressure” does not apply. Yet, not every quarterback fumbles the ball so often while being sacked.
They say football is a “game of inches.” Perhaps, no area of the sport is more truer than personnel evaluation, where inches can represent the difference between a superstar and a backup.
In Tannehill’s case, critics pointed to his nine-inch hands being suboptimal for a quarterback, making him prone to fumbles. The evidence of him being a fumbler in college was not strong, but in the pros, he has fumbled the football 17 times in 23 games, losing nine of them.
Position Grade: B-