Week 15 of the NFL season saw some explosive and even record-setting performances from a variety of elite players. However, it was the play of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill that should have put the rest of the league on notice.
The player the Miami Dolphins selected eighth overall in the 2012 NFL draft played the best game of his young career in Sunday's 24-20 victory over the Patriots, leading his team to their biggest win since the Chad Pennington-led Dolphins clinched a playoff berth in New York back in 2008.
You can view the highlights of Tannehill's performance against the Patriots in the video below:
Whether it's an improving connection with his star receiver, impressive late-game production or the fact that it was such an important win for his team, there were many positives from Ryan Tannehill's game on Sunday.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from Tannehill's explosive Week 15 performance.
He outplayed Tom Brady
Over the course of his career, there is no other word that can better describe Tom Brady than winner. He has won three Super Bowls, been to two more and boasts the best regular season winning percentage for any quarterback in league history.
He has also been the ultimate brick wall for the Miami Dolphins, beating them seven straight times. That all changed on Sunday, as the 25-year-old from Texas A&M went throw-for-throw with the future Hall of Famer and came out on top.
On Sunday, Brady threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns compared to 312 yards and three touchdowns for Tannehill.
Similar numbers, but this time it was Tannehill who led his team on a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, and it was Brady who threw a game-ending interception on his team's final drive.
While it wasn't one of those "passing the torch" games, it was a huge step for Tannehill and a major boost for the Dolphins that now know their quarterback can go toe-to-toe with the best in the business.
He has found a connection with Mike Wallace
Early on in the season, there was just something missing in the Ryan Tannehill-Mike Wallace connection. Balls would be overthrown or underthrown, routes wouldn't be run right and they simply weren't on the same page.
While things still aren't perfect yet, the duo continues to get more lethal with each passing game. On Sunday, Tannehill found Wallace six times for 105 yards, highlighted by a 39-yard touchdown to put the Dolphins on the board in the final minute of the first half.
Over the last four games, Wallace has totaled 20 catches for 333 yards and three touchdowns, as the two continue to improve their rapport.
"We're getting there. We work hard, man. It's not going to come overnight, but I think we're picking it up right at the right time," Wallace said to Sun-Sentinel Reporter Dieter Kurtenbach after the game. "I'd rather us be picking it up right now rather than [be clicking] at the beginning of the year and then be falling off."
Wallace is clearly the Dolphins' most dangerous weapon on offense so the more Tannehill can get the ball in his hands, the more explosive this team will continue to be.
He vaulted himself back into the 2012 draft class discussion
This year is a different story.
Tannehill has taken that next step and while he still can't be considered the best of the 2012 draft class—that continues to be Russell Wilson—he has certainly surpassed the now-benched RG3 and is on par with Andrew Luck.
Tannehill ranks eighth in the league in passing yards (3,627), ninth in passing touchdowns (23) and is completing 62.4 percent of his passes for an 86.6 QB rating—all superior to Luck and Griffin.
He also has head-to-head victories over Luck this year and Wilson last year.
There can never be a final decision on the top quarterback of this class until each of their respective careers are over, but the debates will continue, and at this point you can't mention this class without talking about Tannehill.
He took control of the fourth quarter
There may be no better indication of how good a quarterback is than how they play with the game on the line. While Tannehill has played well this season, he hasn't had that signature fourth quarter performance—until Sunday.
With the game tied at 10 after three quarters, Tannehill took control of the game in the fourth. It first started with a two-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Thomas to give his team a 17-10 lead, and it finished with the signature drive of his young career.
Trailing 20-17 with four minutes left, Tannehill took his team on a nine-play, 60-yard drive, taking nearly three minutes off the clock. He completed 6-of-8 passes on the drive, including a six-yard pass to Charles Clay on fourth-and-five from Miami's 45-yard line.
He didn't just settle and get conservative when he got his team into field goal range to tie it up. Instead, he went for the win and found Marcus Thigpen for a 14-yard touchdown to put his team on top.
It was one of those defining moments for a young quarterback and could be the moment that is looked back upon as when he officially arrived.
He put his team in the driver's seat of the playoffs
The most important aspect of Tannehill's performance on Sunday is what it means for the Dolphins as a team.
As Bleacher Report's Michael Brumagin also points out, the victory left the door open for the Dolphins to win the AFC East if the Patriots slip up in their final two games.
If Tannehill can continue his recent play, it's feasible that the Dolphins not only get into the playoffs for the first time since 2008, but make some noise once they get there.
More than anything, Sunday's win showed Tannehill has what it takes to be the Dolphins first legitimate franchise quarterback since Dan Marino. After 16 guys tried, No. 17 seems to finally be the one.
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