After finishing a 7-9 season with a face-slapping thumping at the hands of their AFC East rival New England Patriots, there wasn't a lot to smile about during Monday’s exit meetings for Miami Dolphins players and rookie coach Joe Philbin.
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SAN FRANCISCO – Penalties and self-inflicted blunders did the Miami Dolphins in again.
For the second consecutive week errors in the punting game proved costly. Once it was punt returner Marcus Thigpen losing possession on a punt deep in San Francisco territory. That led to a touchdown. Then it was linebacker Jonathan Freeny carrying a punt across the goalline for a touchback. That led to a field goal. And then there was a pass interference call against cornerback Sean Smith on a fourth-and-one. That led to a touchdown.
Due largely to those miscues, the 49ers defeated the Dolphins, 27-13, on Sunday at Candlestick Park.
Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a chance to get his team back in it, and he did OK in the fourth quarter. He drove Miami 75 yards in 13 plays, throwing a well-placed pass to tight end Anthony Fasano who made a sweet diving catch in the end zone. That cut the Dolphins' deficit to 20-13.
But with the game on the line the Dolphins' offense stalled. Tannehill drove Miami 27 yards. But he threw high on a third-and-10 throw to wide receiver Davone Bess from the 49ers' 35 with 4:16 left. Bess wasn't really open anyway. On the following play, fourth down, it was the same thing. Tannehill overthrew wide receiver Marlon Moore, who wasn't really open either.
That effectively ended the game and the Dolphins' playoff hopes. Miami falls to 5-8 and almost certainly out of the AFC playoff picture. Perhaps 8-8 earns a wildcard berth, but don't count on it. San Francisco improved to 9-3-1.
Miami ended with 227 yards of offense. San Francisco ended with more than 324 yards.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick (18-for-23 passing, 185 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions) scored on a 50-yard run with 2:10 left to provide the final margin.
Tannehill ended the game 16-for-30 for 142 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was OK. Once again, Miami got very little help from its offense.
Even the makeshift offensive line, with rookie Jonathan Martin flipping from right tackle to left tackle to replace the injured Jake Long, and Nate Garner starting at right tackle, did OK.
Defensively, Dolphins end Cameron Wake (three sacks) was a monster. But he didn't have much help.
Miami's defense did whats it needed to do overall. Linebacker Karlos Dansby had 12 tackles. And the Dolphins didn't allow the 49ers their first successful third-down conversion until late in the third quarter. Their big blunder was that crucial Smith penalty.
Thigpen muffed punt deep in Dolphins territory in the third quarter. The 49ers recovered and drove nine yards in two plays for a Frank Gore 1-yard touchdown and a 13-3 lead. Gore, the former University of Miami standout, ended with 63 yards on 12 carries, giving him his sixth 1,000-yard rushing season.
Wake had two sacks in the first quarter, including a caused fumble. He was a terror. He ended with three first-half sacks.
Offensive tackles might have cost the Dolphins a chance at a touchdown in the second quarter when they took a 3-0 lead. Rookie left tackle Jonathan Martin and right tackle Nate Garner both had false start penalties and then Martin allowed a sack to Aldon Smith. Miami had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter. The sack, by the way, gave Smith the single-season franchise record with 18.5 sacks, surpassing Fred Dean (17.5) in 1983.
The Dolphins trailed, 6-3, at halftime and there was a costly play on the 49ers go-ahead scoring drive. Freeny caught a Brandon Fields punt near the Dolphins' 3-yard line. He got two feet inbounds, then took another step. But then, while still carrying the ball, his foot barely crossed the goalline. But that was enough to create a touchback, which gave the 49ers the ball at their 20. They drove 61 yards in nine plays, resulting in a 37-yard field goal by David Akers.
Miami had two injuries to starters – Long (left triceps) is out for the season and safety Jimmy Wilson, the starter in the nickel (five defensive backs) formation was out with a hip injury.
But it was errors, not missing personnel, that hurt the Dolphins on Sunday.
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