Yes, it was only Week 3, but it had the feel of a statement week. And no team made a bigger statement than the Miami Dolphins. No player made a bigger statement than young franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
That's right: Ryan Tannehill, franchise quarterback. Get used it. And get used to the winning going on in South Florida.
The upstart Dolphins, 3-0, are one of the early stories of this 2013 NFL season.
Many (myself included) wrongly picked against Miami in every game to start the year. Opening up the season away from home, the Dolphins earned a solid, 23-10 win over the Cleveland Browns. On the road again in Week 2, Tannehill outdueled Andrew Luck, guiding the 'Fins to a 24-20 defeat of the Indianapolis Colts. And on Sunday, they showed true grit, overcoming two double-digit deficits to beat the talented (albeit injury-riddled) Atlanta Falcons, 27-23.
Every week, a new feat, a more impressive win. Every week, a new chapter in the book of Ryan Tannehill.
Falcons-Dolphins was Sunday's most intense and pulsating game, and Tannehill was the central figure. After Matt Bryant missed a chip-shot field-goal attempt with less than five minutes remaining, keeping the Falcons' advantage at 23-20, it was Tannehill time. You just knew it. And that's the beauty, from a Miami standpoint: Based on Tannehill's play, how he oozes confidence, I would've been stunned if he didn't deliver. That's the feeling Miami has been searching for since You Know Who was the quarterback.
Tannehill superbly guided the Dolphins down the field on a 13-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Dion Sims, who made a one-handed grab for good measure. Tannehill made throw after throw on the game-winning drive, with incompletions coming via the drop.
Watching the ebb and flow of the game, Miami had no business winning. Atlanta jumped to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, then a 20-10 advantage early in the second half. But Tannehill kept leading the charge. When the second-year pro was sacked (five times) or picked (once), he just brushed it off and kept battling. Tannehill has a knack, even if most of the country doesn't realize it.
Tannehill enjoyed a very solid rookie year in 2012, but of course, it was completely lost in the shuffle of wunderkind efforts from fellow first-year signal-callers Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, all of whom led their respective teams to the playoffs. Tannehill played well down the stretch, but what he did last season was relatively normal, at least compared to the abnormal greatness of the aforementioned trio. Still, he established himself as The Guy in Miami and set a tone that has allowed the Dolphins to get off to this hot start. Through three weeks of action, he's also helped mask the team's biggest problem area: the offensive line. That's impressive.
And if you think about it, Miami has the recipe for success.
I really like Joe Philbin. The Dolphins coach immediately changed the culture in Miami last season, and now the fruits of his labor are really paying off in Year 2. You won't find a harder worker or nicer man than Joe Philbin -- he makes the Dolphins easy to root for. And right before our eyes, he's establishing a winning program built around his intensity and honesty.
Tannehill isn't the only noteworthy guy on offense -- he has help at the skill positions. I wasn't a big fan of the money the Dolphins spent on Mike Wallace, but they needed a player like him to stretch the field. One guy who definitely benefits from Wallace's presence: fellow receiver Brian Hartline, who's trending toward a second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Meanwhile, running back Lamar Miller is making progress; the Dolphins still need more from him, of course, but I like his potential and think his best days are ahead of him.
And Miami has a legit defense, headlined by a big-time pass rush. Cameron Wake is an absolute stud off the edge, although he was hurt Sunday and could miss some time. Dion Jordan stepped in and played well after Wake went down, and the rookie will only dazzle more as the season moves along.
In the preseason, I liked the Dolphins to go 8-8 this year, thinking they'd fall just short in the AFC. I picked the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts as wild-card teams (still feeling good there), while reluctantly leaving the 'Fins and Cincinnati Bengals out of the playoff picture.
The schedule is tough for Miami, especially in the coming weeks. The Dolphins visit the New Orleans Saints next Monday night, then return home for a bout with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. After a Week 6 bye, it's home versus the Buffalo Bills, away against the New England Patriots and back home for a date with the Cincinnati Bengals. No easy stretch, to be sure. But if the Dolphins can stay afloat -- and three weeks into the season, it certainly feels like they can -- the second half of the season looks far more manageable.
Yes, Miami has its coach and the defense it has been craving. But it's the franchise quarterback who gives this team credence and intoxicates the fan base.
Nobody will ever play like "No. 13" did for Miami. I won't even mention his name. The comparison isn't fair.
But a seemingly never-ending search for the guy to replace You Know Who is complete.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.