Ryan Tannehill Can Learn How to Win by Watching the NFL Playoffs

Luke TaylorCorrespondent IIJanuary 20, 2013

Can Tannehill become an elite QB?
Can Tannehill become an elite QB?Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

If any questions lingered over what it would take for Ryan Tannehill to lead the Miami Dolphins deep into the NFL playoffs, last weekend’s action should have answered them.

Last Saturday, Joe Flacco moved the ball 77 yards in just 69 seconds and threw a remarkable 70-yard touchdown that took the Baltimore Ravens to overtime in Denver. In overtime, a mistake from Peyton Manning led to Baltimore’s win.

Flacco came through when it mattered most.

The San Francisco 49ers hosted the Green Bay Packers and didn't start well, with the Niners quarterback tossing a pick-six on the first drive.

After that drive, Green Bay became an unwitting participant in the "Colin Kaepernick Show." The second-year quarterback from Nevada tore the 2010 Super Bowl champions’ defense apart, accounting for 444 yards of offense on the ground and in the air.


Russell Wilson then led the Seattle Seahawks back from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to give Seattle the lead in Atlanta with 31 seconds left. He was (almost) unstoppable in the critical quarter.

Unfortunately, Matt Ryan, who had completed two passes for three yards and thrown a critical interception in the quarter, wasn’t finished.

Starting on Atlanta's own 28-yard line,"Matty Ice" went 2-of-2 for 41 yards. One field goal later, the Falcons were in the lead again. Ryan ignored his previous fourth-quarter issues and delivered in the clutch moment.

With just eight seconds on the clock, Wilson tried to win the game for Seattle, but his Hail Mary pass was picked off in the end zone. However, few would have bet against Wilson. That one play struck fear into every Atlanta fan.

Ryan Tannehill needs to inspire that fear in opposing defenses.

That clutch play, that calm and ruthless efficiency that wins a game when it’s on the line. That mental toughness to bounce back from a pick-six. That ability to leave an opponent without a way back into the match.

These are the traits of an elite quarterback.

Tannehill lacks those characteristics. Without them in his game, the Miami Dolphins will continue to wait for a playoff win.

Forget Tom Brady and Peyton Manning—they won’t be around forever. Flacco, Ryan, Wilson and Kaepernick are the peers who will be playing opposite Tannehill for the next decade. You can add Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton and Robert Griffin III (notwithstanding a bad knee) to that group as well.

I’m not trying to say Tannehill isn’t good enough. He has all the physical tools to become a great quarterback. Next year we’ll get a better idea of how good he really is, as he should (note the word "should") be surrounded by offensive weapons.

This year he was good. Not great...but good.

He played well enough in his rookie season, albeit with an unstable offensive line and few playmakers. He even demonstrated the clutch performance Miami needs in the Dolphins’ win over Seattle in Week 12.

He also put Miami in a position to win against the New York Jets in Miami and against the Cardinals in Arizona in the fourth quarter. Missed field goals cost him those wins.

However, there is a difference between Tannehill and Russell Wilson.

With the former, you hope that he can lead you down the field on a game-winning drive. With Wilson, you expect him to deliver the win.

In overtime, he failed to win a game. A missed field goal cost him against the Jets, and an interception against Arizona gave the Cardinals the ball in Miami territory, resulting in a game-winning field goal.

When the game is on the line, Tannehill needs to improve.

Tannehill’s fourth-quarter performances were, on the whole, not good enough. He completed just 55 percent of his passes, although he threw six touchdowns to three interceptions. However, when the Dolphins were within seven points of their opponent, Tannehill completed only 49 percent of his passes and threw two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Tight games separate the men from the boys, and on recent evidence, the quarterback who delivers at the end of the final quarter tends to be the quarterback on the winning team.

Recent Super Bowls have also proved this to be true. Tom Brady (2002, 2004 and 2005), Eli Manning (2008 and 2012), Ben Roethlisberger (2009) and Aaron Rodgers (2011) offer support for that theory.

Tannehill showed against Seattle that he has it in him. Perhaps he was hindered by his lack of offensive weapons in other games, but next year he should not be able to use that as an excuse.

Next year, with what hopefully is an improved offense, I suspect we will begin to see the real mental makeup of Tannehill.

We will know whether he can deliver game-winning drives on a regular basis.

He has the physical ability to deliver in the fourth quarter, but if we’ve learned anything from last weekend’s dramatic action, it is that you need the mental strength to accompany it.

The art of the clutch performance and fourth-quarter comeback does not come naturally to every quarterback. Knowing whether it comes naturally to Ryan Tannehill will give the Miami Dolphins a much better idea of whether he is the man to end their near 40-year wait for a Super Bowl ring.


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