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Ryan Tannehill shows mental resolve as Dolphins cap rocky week with big win

LONDON -- Quarterback Ryan Tannehill stood on the sideline without his helmet while the Miami Dolphins' offense was on the field with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

With backup Matt Moore leading Miami's offense, Tannehill was screaming words of encouragement toward his teammates. But the late quarterback change wasn't what many expected.

After a rocky week, Tannehill was pulled from Sunday's game about halfway through the fourth quarter -- but it was because he had turned in one of the strongest performances of his career. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns in Miami's 38-14 blowout victory over the Oakland Raiders in London.

Perhaps motivated by recent questions about his status as Miami's starter, Tannehill was essentially lights-out for one of the few times in his career. At one point, he completed a career-high 14 straight passes to help the Dolphins (2-2) take a 17-point lead at intermission that they never relinquished.

The irony of Tannehill sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter because of a blowout -- not a benching -- wasn't lost on Miami's backup quarterback.

"It was kind of funny, you know," Moore said. "I'm so proud of Ryan with the way he played. I'm proud of the whole team. But Ryan, being my guy in the quarterback room, I thought he came out and played well.

"There shouldn't have been any questions. But if there was, he answered them. He played great."

Even Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, who created last week's controversy with his non-endorsement of Tannehill, was able to joke about pulling Tannehill about midway through the fourth quarter.

"You guys predicted it," Philbin deadpanned with a sly grin to the media.

Intentionally or not, Philbin motivated and challenged Tannehill this week in ways the quarterback never experienced. Miami's starter admitted this was the toughest week of his two-plus seasons in the NFL.

The perception Philbin created -- at least publicly -- was that the kid gloves were off; Tannehill could lose his job at any second with another poor performance. He was 1-4 in his previous five starts dating to last season, and that created a sense of urgency and focus. Tannehill was locked in from the beginning on Sunday and completed 17 of his first 19 passes. That sparked Miami's offense to score a season-high 38 points.

"As the week went on and everything, all the distractions, to finally leave the country, have a long flight and come over here and get ready for the game, I think I was more excited for this game than I've been for a game in a long time," Tannehill said.

Perhaps Tannehill's biggest asset is his physical toughness -- he's proved it on a weekly basis. Tannehill has been the NFL's most-sacked quarterback since 2012, and he has never complained or missed a start.

But Tannehill showed a different side of himself to coaches and teammates Sunday with his mental toughness. The pressure on Tannehill had never been higher, and Tannehill answered the call. Overcoming adversity is a major plus for any starting quarterback.

There will be no debating Tannehill's status as the Dolphins enter their bye week.

"I'm excited about the step that I took and that the offense took this week," Tannehill said. "But we have to build off of it. It's just a step."

Moore said the two quarterbacks understood the situation the entire week and they did their best to block the outside distractions. The results showed Sunday.

"I think the sky is the limit," Moore said when asked how good the Dolphins can be this season if Tannehill plays up to his potential. "It is Week 4. We've had some mishaps early in the season. But I think this proves when we're clicking, we can do some big things. I think this game gives guys some positive vibes."

And no one needed more positive vibes than Tannehill.