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Can Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins escape their 'dark spot'?

There are reasons Ryan Tannehill is off to a slow start this season, cemented by his dispiriting performance in Thursday night's 22-7 loss to the Bengals. He's in his third offense. The offensive line is struggling. There are always reasons.

The larger question for Dolphins coach Adam Gase: Will Tannehill ever overcome those reasons?

Tannehill's performance in Cincinnati was typical of his season. His numbers (15 of 25 for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception) looked a lot better than his overall play. He lost another key fumble and made mental errors. Miami's offense is capable of the occasional big play, but their default mode is stasis.

"One of the worst performances I've seen from our offense in a long time," Tannehill said after the game. Later, he added: "We're in a dark spot right now."

Miami had only two drives out of 11 that lasted longer than four plays. It finished the game with 10 straight drives without so much as a field-goal attempt. It's the second time this season the Dolphins have been held under 225 yards.

"We couldn't get out of our own way," a dejected Gase said.

Despite Tannehill's contract -- which runs through 2020 -- we view this season as an extended tryout for him under Gase. The Dolphins brought in Gase to bring the best out of their franchise quarterback, but they surely value their coach's quarterback acumen. That's why they hired him. If Tannehill does not warm up to Gase's system, we'd expect the team to allow Gase to look at other alternatives whether in free agency or the draft.

This is all written with the understanding that it's very early in the process for Tannehill under Gase. The Dolphins had a brutal schedule to start the year with road games in Seattle, New England and Cincinnati. They don't hit the road again until mid-November, and Tannehill will have time to get more comfortable. But we also don't want to undersell Tannehill's struggles because he's clearly taken a step back over the last month -- and Tannehill knows it.

"We have to get it fixed soon and by soon, I mean Monday," Tannehill said after the game. "It's gone on too long. There's no more excuses, no more waiting, it's got to be important to everyone who steps on that field and we have to get it fixed right now."

The best Tannehill trait over the last two seasons was his ability to avoid interceptions; only five quarterbacks threw fewer picks-per-throw over the last two seasons. Tannehill already has five interceptions and four fumbles.

Miami's offensive line injuries are part of the equation. There were plays against the Bengals when Tannehill had absolutely no chance. There were other plays, however, when Tannehill held on to the ball too long. He admitted after the game he needed to step up in the pocket on the play he was strip-sacked.

Athleticism, talent and the ability to make highlight reel plays have never been a question when it comes to Tannehill. He has shown development at the finer points of the position, like pocket movement. Youngsters like Carson Wentz and Trevor Siemian have shown some superior skills right away.

Gase spent so much of the offseason building up Tannehill's confidence. Thursday's performance will test that confidence. While Gase was quick to say everyone on offense was at fault for the loss, he mentioned Tannehill's lack of accuracy on a few key third downs in the first half.

"He missed a couple things early ... when things start going bad, you want him to kind of find that one throw where we can spring us loose," Gase said.

We read endless articles this offseason about Gase's desire to let Tannehill make decisions at the line of scrimmage, a stark contrast to Joe Philbin's tight-leashed coaching. Tannehill must show he can handle the added responsibility.

In June, I wrote about all the positive factors surrounding Tannehill heading into this season. One area of concern, though, was his reputation for slow decision-making and ability to read defenses:

"How quickly Tannehill can process this new offense and Gase's coaching will largely determine how much I regret writing this column," I wrote with all the optimism of organized team activities season.

Four weeks into the season, let's just say I'm not planning to submit that story for a Pulitzer.

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