Ryan Tannehill a polarizing figure, but toughness not a question

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DAVIE, Fla. -- As quarterback Ryan Tannehill jogged out of the locker room before the start of the second half last Sunday, the rest of the Miami Dolphins players and coaches perked up.

It initially looked as if Tannehill suffered an ugly right ankle injury. Right tackle Ja'Wuan James accidentally stepped on Tannehill's leg during a late-second-quarter sack against New England, and Tannehill went into the locker room before halftime with a heavy limp. Worry hit Miami's sideline, but finally, in an injury-plagued year, the Dolphins got good news.

"I really was shocked that he came back in. I mean, that looked bad," Gase said. "I know when we went in at halftime, I was asking, ‘Do we need to go a series and get you out there and moving around first?’ And he was like, ‘We’re good. Let’s go.’ And I was like, ‘All right.’”

The Dolphins likely wouldn't have pulled off their thrilling, 34-33, Miami Miracle victory over the Patriots without Tannehill returning. He finished 14-of-19 for 265 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. And good news for Miami: Gase has already ruled Tannehill OK to play this Sunday in a crucial game at Minnesota.

The debate about Tannehill's place as the Dolphins' long-term answer at QB rages on in local and national channels. How the Dolphins fare in December will no doubt play a big role in his future. But there's one element of Tannehill that isn't up for debate: his toughness.

Tannehill is a fighter, and he proved that again last Sunday.

“I love competing. I love being on the field. I love being out there for my guys," Tannehill said. "If there’s any possible way that I can be out there with my guys and compete and lead them, then I’m going to do it. It’s not about proving a point or anything like that. It’s about leading the offense and trying to go win a game. That’s ultimately what it comes down to.”

Tannehill might never be what fans or media want him to be, but his best qualities are helping the Dolphins make a legitimate playoff push.

When asked about the defining characteristic of the Dolphins, Gase answered "tough" and cited a "never-say-die attitude." That's likely a reflection of the team Gase, general manager Chris Grier and executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum came together to build for this 2018 season. It's also a reflection of the quarterback.

Tannehill knows his importance to this Dolphins team. He has a 105.7 passer rating, sixth-best in the NFL.

But he's human, so he likely hears the talk of availability being his biggest question mark. He missed five games this season with a shoulder capsule injury, and he's still playing through the pain of it. He has missed 25 of the Dolphins' 46 games (including playoffs) with Gase as head coach. But the Dolphins are also 12-4 in Tannehill's past 16 games. And when he returned out of the locker room with that ankle injury that he said felt like "crap," he gained even more respect from his teammates.

"It gives us confidence. We love to have him out there. When we see him fight back through that ankle, it reassures us to go out there and want to protect him more and make sure he doesn't get hit," James said. "Other guys feed off of it when they see guys push through. Ryan came back off the ankle and somebody else might be hurting, see that and it'll get them to push through their situation, too."