At one point during Monday’s press conference, Dolphins coach Adam Gase made it obvious he believes the difference between success and failure for the 2018 Miami Dolphins has come down to two games.
Losses at Cincinnati and at Indianapolis on Sunday.
“Your disappointed because you’ve got two games where you’re sitting there going, well, 5-6, or 7-4,” Gase said dejectedly. “So it’s a [crappy] feeling.”
It feels bad for the Dolphins because they had fourth-quarter leads in both games and lost them. Both those leads evaporated inside the final 12 minutes of the game.
And both those games could spell the difference between the Dolphins making the playoffs or missing the postseason for the second time in Gase’s three seasons as coach.
But here’s the thing: Both those games have a common theme in that what happened has a direct tie to Miami’s starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
No, I’m not saying both loses should be pinned on Tannehill, although the loss to the Bengals certainly was on him and he has taken responsibility for it.
I’m saying both losses are tied to how Tannehill played or how the Dolphins believed he would play in key fourth-quarter situations.
The Dolphins led the Bengals 17-10 with about 12 minutes left when Tannehill tried to pass on second-and-8 from the Miami 33-yard line. Under pressure, Tannehill tried to escape the rush and then attempted a strange hook-shot sort of pass while he was in the grasp of a defender. The ball floated toward tight end Durham Smythe, bounded off his helmet, and into the hands of a Cincinnati defender for an interception.
The interception was returned for a touchdown. Tie game.
Inside of two minutes and the Dolphins now trailing 20-17, Tannehill tried another throw but his arm was caught from behind by a defender. The fumble that ensued also was returned for a touchdown.
On Sunday in Indianapolis, Tannehill played well by practically any account. He completed 17 of 25 passes for 204 yards with two touchdowns. His quarterback rating was 119.4.
So how was anything that happened in defeat tied to him?
Because when the game came down to moments in which Tannehill had to win it for the Dolphins, Gase obviously did not trust his quarterback. What Tannehill has or has not done in the past was obviously on Gase’s mind.
And the coach called plays accordingly, obviously wary his quarterback might do something terrible if he was asked to do something great.
So backed up at their own 6-yard line, facing a third-and-10 situation with the game tied and 3:34 to play, Gase called a Kenyan Drake run up the middle.
It was the second consecutive fourth-quarter series the Dolphins answered a third-and-10 situation on their side of the field with a Drake run up the middle.
That’s play-calling for the game-manager QB 101, folks.
Tannehill didn’t love the call when backed up.
He understood the call and the thinking behind it. But …
“But I’m a competitor,” Tannehill said. “I want he ball in my hands, I want to make that play.
“But I understand the situation. Obviously, we were inside our own 10, long-yardage situation, they’d been playing soft coverage, sinking everyone underneath in those long-yardage situations, the percentages are low. We were thinking if we can get a block on one guy and make another guy miss, there were a couple of situations earlier in the game where we did run the ball on it and were able to get really close on those runs.
“I totally understand the call there. But as a competitor, it’s tough. You want the ball in your hands.”
Gase after the game dismissed the idea that he doesn’t trust Tannehill. He talked about how he’d been in a similar situation — ostensibly with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos — and recounted how in that very venue, the Colts corralled Manning for a safety.
But here is where the logic of all this falls apart:
In that very situation, with a past-his prime Manning who struggled with arm strength most of the time in Denver, Gase put the ball in the quarterback’s hands.
He put the game in Manning’s hands.
He declined to do that with Tannehill, obviously fearing the worst.
Gase somehow rationalized it would be better to punt it to midfield and play defense — knowing the Colts have a future Hall of Fame kicker and an elite quarterback, while the Dolphins have an inconsistent defense — than to let Tannehill throw on third-and-10.
Like it or not, that speaks to the coach’s trust in his offense as a whole and of Tannehill in particular.
And it absolutely is about the QB because I wonder if Gase would have called that hand off to Drake if Luck was his quarterback? Or Patrick Mahomes? Or Aaron Rodgers? Or Ben Roethlisberger.
I’m not saying it’s a certainty those other quarterbacks would have dug the Dolphins out of their hole.
I’m saying Gase spoke volumes about Tannehill when he thought the worst was likely to happen on third-and-10 if he called a pass.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero