The Dolphins must show that their first dose of significant in-season adversity won't cause them to wilt.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase built this team with a moment like this in mind, but it's on Tannehill to steer the Dolphins' ship through rocky waters.
“I need to be better," Tannehill said referring to his role in the Dolphins' 38-7 loss to the Patriots last Sunday. "As the leader of this offense, we go as I go, so I’ve got to be better.”
He's right. Not just that he has to play better -- anybody could see that -- even though he's had three good games to go along with one bad one. But more importantly, he's the leader of the offense and the team is looking at him to see how they should respond.
There are multiple factors at play. In Tannehill's words, the Dolphins "laid an egg" in their blowout loss to the Patriots, a team they believed they were ready to dethrone.
Tannehill's 100 passing yards and 55-percent completion rate vs. New England were his lowest since Week 12 of the 2015 season. His 47.9 QB rating was his lowest in a game since 2013. He also had an interception and a fumble. The Dolphins gained just 172 yards, the fewest they've had since Week 16 of 2013.
"There were some things I wish I would have done different. He felt the same way," Gase said of Tannehill. "We didn’t play good as an offense. Frank [Gore] probably played good. Besides that, a lot of guys struggled. We didn’t do anything we talked about.”
Miami also has lost two starting offensive linemen for the season because of injuries, and that has shown in the hits Tannehill has taken and the team's nonexistent running game. And this week there were a couple issues that boiled over, such as defensive tackle Jordan Phillips being released earlier this week after his demands for more playing time.
Gase can only do so much. Tannehill will need to step into a leadership role to keep Miami's locker room upbeat, focused and ready to respond after a 3-1 start. There have been signs he is already doing that.
"When you have a tough loss like that, it does make you -- as a team -- come back in and really take a hard look at what happened and the reality of the situation, coach extremely hard, be extremely hard on yourselves and really tighten things up and move on to the next week," Tannehill said. "I can say you do get some things out of losing a game."
The biggest realization might be that this turnaround won't come easily. A 3-0 start might have made a few Dolphins players a little more comfortable than they should have been. Tannehill, along with a couple of the other captains, have been giving the team some positive messages in the last couple of days.
"One thing he said is, 'We have to stay together.' With a loss like that it's easy to be divided and start pointing fingers and saying, someone didn't do this, someone didn't do that," receiver Jakeem Grant said. "Ryan, Kenny [Stills] and Cam [Wake], all those guys told us, 'Stay together. We were together when we were 3-0 and we'll continue to stay together to push forward in being 4-1.'"
Gase hasn't been shy in saying that sort of leadership has been missing in previous years. Even if the Dolphins lose on the road to the Bengals (3-1) on Sunday, they can't afford to be embarrassed the way they were last week.
Tannehill spent all day Tuesday, the players' off day, in the team facility trying to get ahead on work for the week. He spent a good bit of time trying to figure out why he wasn't on the right page with a few open receivers Sunday and how he'll go about overcoming the loss of starting center Daniel Kilgore, who suffered a season-ending triceps injury at New England.
Tannehill has spent extra time this week working with his new center, Travis Swanson. He acknowledges that it's a challenge to lose Kilgore, given the importance of the quarterback-center relationship, but he noted that relationship can develop quickly in Gase's offense because "it's not complicated."
The offensive-line changes will force Tannehill to do some different things.
"I have to make sure that we’re in the right plays and I can get the ball out quickly and get into our playmakers’ hands," Tannehill said. "It’s tough to ask those guys to protect for long periods of time on each play."
Gase and Tannehill discussed the "great energy and vibe" at Wednesday's practice. It's important for the Dolphins to realize they are still at a good spot at 3-1, and how they handle their upcoming October schedule (at Cincinnati, vs. Chicago, vs. Detroit, at Houston on a Thursday night) will dictate how promising this season could become.