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Time is now for Ryan Tannehill to be Dolphins' difference maker

DAVIE, Fla. -- It's only Week 4 and the Miami Dolphins have an astounding 16 players on their injury report.

Four-time Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster is out for Thursday night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a groin injury, and Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey hasn't played all season after hurting his left hip in the summer. Even backup center Anthony Steen (ankle) is doubtful, meaning Miami likely will start third-string center Kraig Urbik.

The passing game is limited with starting tight end Jordan Cameron out with a concussion, and receivers Jarvis Landry (shoulder) and DeVante Parker (hamstring) are both playing through ailments.

With so many injuries and uncertainty, the time is now for Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to be a difference maker.

Franchise quarterbacks often find a way to elevate their team through hardship. Tannehill has a chance to make that kind of statement in a nationally televised game against the Bengals (1-2), who have made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons.

"It's a big game for us," said Tannehill, who is 2-0 against the Bengals in his career. "Where we're at in the season, we're in the fourth game, being 1-2 on the road for 'Thursday Night Football.' It's a big stage, and it's going to be a fun game. It's going to be a fun atmosphere."

Tannehill is 30-37 as a starter and can no longer be a spoke in the wheel. His $96 million contract is the second-highest behind defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ($100 million) and dictates that Tannehill develops into the engine that drives the Dolphins. Miami also is financially tied to Tannehill through at least next year because it committed $45 million in guarantees during the first three seasons (2015-17) of his contract extension.

Dolphins rookie head coach Adam Gase has a proven track record with quarterbacks and has full confidence Tannehill will reach his potential under his system. The early results have been mixed through three games.

Tannehill has an 88.8 passer rating, which is 17th in the NFL, and has thrown for 892 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions. Miami's offense has scored just one touchdown in the first half, is converting on just 29.4 percent of third downs and is getting drilled in average time of possession (34:57 to 25:03).

Not everything can be pinned on the quarterback, and there are a variety of reasons for Miami's offensive struggles. The aforementioned injuries are a factor, and there are poor details -- such as missed assignments and bad route depth by receivers -- that need to be cleaned up as the team goes through the growing pains of learning a new system.

"I think everything will start coming together as far as hooking up with the wideouts and tight ends and running backs, everybody being on the same page," an optimistic Gase said. "It's kind of like that first year of an offense where you have these minor glitches that are critical to get them fixed fast, because it can cost you a game."

Tannehill's biggest asset to date is his toughness.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, no quarterback has been sacked more times than Tannehill (190) since the start of the 2012 season. Tannehill also is the third-most-hit (387) quarterback in that span. Yet, Tannehill has never missed a start and will play in his 68th consecutive game for Miami on Thursday night.

But toughness can only take Tannehill so far. At some point the Dolphins quarterback must carry and uplift the franchise through tough stretches like this one in order to get the team where it wants to be.