Miami Dolphins: 7 Takeaways from Week 14 Loss to 49ers
For a moment it looked like the Miami Dolphins might be able to steal a victory on the West Coast.
For a moment it appeared like the Dolphins had landed in San Francisco and struck gold.
Then, in a moment, it was gone. As Colin Kaepernick crossed the goal line for the final score of the game, slowing his sprint to a jog, the hopes of a Miami upset were gone. The 49ers did what everyone expected them to do.
They beat an inferior Miami Dolphins team.
Let's not lose sight of the fact that Miami put forth a solid effort. The Dolphins traveled across the country and played one of the NFL's toughest teams hard, which is a very difficult task.
But for the second week in a row, the Dolphins just couldn't do enough to upset one of the NFL's elite teams.
And for the second week in a row, we'll try to make sense of this loss by examining seven takeaways from Miami's Week 14 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.
Dolphins' Offense Was Forgettable
We've seen Miami's offense show flashes of brilliance. We've seen Miami's offense barely able to muster a coughing gasp of competence.
Today, we saw something new.
Miami's offense wasn't exciting, but it also wasn't overtly bad. Almost worse than being bad, it was utterly forgettable.
The offense was flaccid, bland and fang-less. Ryan Tannehill was inaccurate (again) and average, completing only 51 percent of his passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. Reggie Bush picked up 65 yards on 14 carries for another average outing.
Even when the offense tried something new, there was little conviction behind it.
Near the end of the second quarter, Reggie Bush was lined up at receiver. Tannehill tried the long ball to Bush, but the pass sailed out of bounds. Miami never returned to the formation, despite the opportunity for mismatches.
One bright spot: The Dolphins did not turn the ball over. This is obviously a plus, but it doesn't outshine the rest of the offense's forgettable performance.
Defense Bent, Bent and Finally Broke
Miami's defense is the foundation of this team.
The Dolphins draw a lot of their overall personality from their defense: They're a hard-nosed, gritty team that will give any team a fight for four quarters.
That's why it was surprising in the worst way when Miami's defense finally broke.
But let's not overlook the rest of the unit's performance. Miami's defense stifled an elite opponent for the second week in a row. San Francisco struggled to achieve consistency almost all day. Colin Kaepernick, the kind of mobile quarterback that typically gives Miami fits, was kept in check until his gut-wrenching touchdown run late in the game.
The defense did the best it could, but it received little help from the offense or special teams.
Special Teams Were a Mess
Miami's Jonathan Freeny made a pretty bonehead play in punt coverage, signaling what would be a painful day on special teams for the Dolphins.
After a booming punt from Brandon Fields, Freeny snatched the ball out of midair and landed at the 3-yard line...and then proceeded to walk to the goal line, resulting in a touchback.
Freeny became the target of much ire for his mistake. Even Fields got into Freeny's face, giving him a bit of a shove after scolding him. The 49ers would turn the mistake into three points before halftime.
Later, Marcus Thigpen would muff a punt early in the fourth quarter. San Francisco would recover the punt at the Miami 9-yard line. Two plays later, Frank Gore would score to make it 13-3, a deficit the Dolphins would never overcome.
Those two mistakes alone wounded the Dolphins greatly, creating an insurmountable mound of mistakes.
Dolphins Strangely Forced the Long Ball
The Dolphins, by virtue of poor play-calling, consistently tried to force the long ball today.
On the Dolphins' last meaningful drive of the game, Tannehill tried three deep passes on first, third and fourth down. All three times, the intended receiver was covered. All three passes were incomplete.
Why the Dolphins tried for the big play instead of focusing on getting first downs and extending the drive is beyond me. It's yet another reason why the offense appeared so stagnant.
It's pretty common knowledge at this point that Miami lacks big-play talent on offense. Yet the coaching staff constantly draws up plays that require the exact thing the Dolphins don't have. Truly mind-boggling.
Jonathan Martin's Inexperience Showed, but He Persevered
Okay, let's get this out of the way.
Yes, Jonathan Martin got destroyed by Aldon Smith on that one play. Yes, it was embarrassing. Yes, Aldon Smith really is that good.
Now that we've gotten that out of our systems, we can look at what Martin did for the rest of the game.
In his first NFL start at left tackle, Jonathan Martin faced an intimidating foe. And he mostly performed admirably. Smith wound up with two sacks, yes, but Martin did a pretty solid job holding off the NFL's sack leader.
The Dolphins wisely gave Martin a lot of help from their running backs, which certainly contributed to his solid performance.
There were a few mistakes, and that pancake won't be forgotten for a while. But I liked what I saw from Martin, and I have faith that he can grow into a strong left tackle.
Cameron Wake Turned in Another Beastly Performance
Cameron Wake racked up another three sacks today to increase his season total to 14.
His impact on today's game was monumental.
Colin Kaepernick was never able to get truly comfortable in the pocket with Wake terrorizing the edge. Wake led a Miami rush that kept pressure on the mobile quarterback for much of the game.
Wake continues to distinguish himself as one of Miami's most electric players and as one of the best defensive ends in the league.
He's firmly in the race to claim the sack crown, but it'll be hard to catch up to league-leader Aldon Smith.
Anthony Fasano Showed off Athleticism to Doubters
Tight end Anthony Fasano may not be the athletic mismatch-machine that the Dolphins want at the position, but he's certainly showed that he deserves his roster spot.
His acrobatic touchdown grab in the fourth quarter of this game proved he has some athleticism to spare.
Tannehill's pass initially appeared to be overthrown, but Fasano left his feet, stretched out with one paw, gripped the ball tight and secured it through the landing. His startling grab was nothing short of amazing, and will likely go down as one of the best catches of the season.
If Fasano is capable of making plays like this, you have to wonder if Fasano is the problem, or if the Dolphins have simply been misusing him.