At one point in the fourth quarter, it really did look like the Miami Dolphins were going to pull out an improbable victory at Candlestick Park, but San Francisco’s defense stood firm, and Colin Kaepernick’s 50-yard touchdown run sealed the deal for the 49ers.
Miami’s record now sits at 5-8, and the playoffs, although not mathematically, the are essentially out of reach. However, this was another defeat that had positive moments, similar to last week’s loss against New England.
The score ended 27-13, but in reality the game was a lot closer than this suggests. The late Kaepernick touchdown put a glossy finish on a game that was anything but comfortable for the Niners.
However, Miami still lost the game, and this has been a recurring theme of its season so far.
So, without waiting any longer, it’s time to recap the good, bad and ugly from Miami’s defeat on the west coast.
Miami travelled to San Francisco (now 9-3-1) and put up a resolute battle in front of a notoriously tough crowd; they were competitive throughout, and the final score doesn’t tell the whole story.
The Dolphins battled hard throughout, and no one had more of an impact in aqua and orange than Cam Wake. The defensive end dominated the Niners’ offensive line, registering three sacks to give him 14 on the season. Wake even dropped into coverage on a crucial third-down in the fourth, making the tackle to stop San Francisco’s drive.
Also on defense, Reshad Jones had another strong outing with 8 tackles, and Jared Odrick got to break out the “Pee-Wee Herman” with another sack. Odrick has played a key role for the Dolphins this season in stuffing the run and contributing with sacks at vital times, and has been criminally underrated by the fanbase.
Karlos Dansby also added 8 individual tackles to give him 100 tackles for the season. He also answered his critics with a huge stop on third down to keep the Dolphins in the game a little longer, saving four points. Again, criticised often by the fanbase, Dansby’s leadership has been vital on the defense this season, and we should recognise that his role in Miami is greater than just his play; which is by no means poor either!
RJ Stanford also came in and did a solid job as the nickel corner in place of Jimmy Wilson, and the Dolphins finally stopped a tight end! Kevin Burnett (mainly) shut down Vernon Davis, holding him to one catch for four yards. Finally we stopped a tight end.
On offense, there were a few bright spots. One important factor was that Tannehill didn’t turn the ball over. He played a solid game against an outstanding defense, completing 17 of 33 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown.
The touchdown itself was thrown to Anthony Fasano on fourth down, and the veteran tight end made an incredible catch in the corner of the endzone. It’s not often you see Fasano make acrobatic catches like that, but it really was one of the catches of the season.
Reggie Bush was also used in a more versatile role, which many fans have wanted all season. He made 65 yards on the ground, and another 38 on five receptions. The running backs didn’t turn the ball over this week either; which is another bonus.
Although the offensive line had some difficulties, Richie Incognito deserves praise for not reacting to the constant provocation from the Niners’ defense. On one play he was pushed twice after the play went dead, right in front of the referees. No flag was thrown. Richie stayed calm though.
On special teams, Dan "Kid Rock" Carpenter kicked both his attempts, and nailed his first kick over 50 yards this season, converting from the 53. Do fans still want Carpenter replaced?
One more good thing, it’s the Jaguars up next in Miami. They lost 17-10 to Sexy Rexy’s vomit-green cheating machine this weekend, and looked bad. Chad Henne struggled too. Surely the Dolphins will get a win here right?
He's gone Jason.... give it up
Despite the positives in various areas of Miami’s game, there were still some worrying trends.
The defense failed to force turnovers, and as a result, the offense struggled to start with good field position—something it needs to put points on the board.
Colin Kaepernick was hardly outstanding, but completed 18 of 23 passes for 185 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown or interception, and Miami allowed him to run for a 50-yard touchdown when Odrick blew containment on the option. Jason Trusnik look confused, got caught in no-man’s land, and watched Kaepernick breeze by him.
The cornerbacks also gave Michael Crabtree way too much space on several occasions, allowing him to catch quick passes before making yards on the ground, even grabbing a couple of important first downs. The coverage didn't make a whole lot of sense.
Crabtree finished with nine receptions for 93 yards, but too much of that came from these quick passes. Miami’s defensive backs don’t have enough talent to play man coverage, so they are playing a lot of zone. It’d be nice to see Miami add a cornerback and play more physical defense next season.
Again, no turnovers… It’s a worry. Miami needs impact plays on defense to win games if the offense can’t put up the points. (Please could everyone pass on Manti Te'o?)
On offense, the lack of playmakers is still hurting the Phins. Davone Bess and Reggie Bush caught five passes each, but Hartline (2-34) and Fasano (2-9, TD) need to do more, as do the other receivers, with only Lamar Miller, Charles Clay and Rishard Matthews also catching a pass.
In fairness to Fasano, he was needed to help deal with San Francisco’s strong defensive line, but someone has to step up. It doesn’t look like that man is currently on the roster, so Mr. Ireland needs both a quick receiver and a big target to add to Miami’s unit in the offseason.
On the ground, Reggie ran well, but Daniel Thomas (two runs, three yards) and Miller (three runs, one yard) couldn’t do anything. It would have been nice to see more of Thomas, the more physical back, in such a physical game, though.
Jonathan Martin struggled at times, although he can be excused this week as his opponent was Aldon Smith. He is solid against speed, but really struggles with power, as we found out when he was bull-rushed onto his backside by Smith, who then registered one of his two sacks. This offseason he must get stronger. He doesn’t look like an upgrade over Jake Long yet, but his audition includes three more games.
The offensive line must also be upgraded in the draft and free agency (preferably the draft). Nate Garner was solid enough at right tackle though.
What happened on special teams?
Remember when the unit was blocking punts, recovering onside kicks and scoring touchdowns? It seems a long time ago now...
Again, the special teams unit proved to be the Dolphins’ downfall, as it committed the turnover that the offense did so well to stop.
It was Marcus Thigpen who fumbled a punt, which was recovered by the Niners on Miami’s 9-yard line and turned into a vital seven points.
However, Thigpen has been a revelation this year, and this mistake should be overlooked. He almost made up for it immediately on the following kick-off return, going 56 yards and being stopped by the last line of defense.
Jonathan Freeney’s mistake was a little harder to comprehend. He downed another outstanding Brandon Fields punt at the 5-yard line, then preceded to walk forward five yards, standing on the goal line in the process, and causing a touchback.
It cost Miami vital yards—yards the offense was struggling to make.
You’d assume it won’t happen again, though. Freeney was shoved by Fields after the play. He’ll remember the rule next time, but Miami needed him to know it already.
The Dolphins’ production on critical downs is also a huge worry.
Miami’s offensive line seem unable to protect its quarterback, the receivers seem unable to get open, and Tannehill seems unable to consistently make his throws (except Fasano’s touchdown).
Tannehill looks rattled on some of these downs too, and you could see it when he threw the ball away on fourth down, with Miami needing to convert on a 4-10 to keep the game alive. That decision was ridiculous. Throw it downfield anywhere. It makes no difference if it’s an incomplete pass or touchdown; just give someone a chance to make a play.
Also, Tannehill’s decision-making is questionable on occasions, and he could run for first downs, but chooses to pass. He’s a rookie, so it is understandable, but that clinical nature looks lacking right now. Hopefully this will change, but it would be nice to see a little more growth from him on these clutch plays.
The offense needs to tighten up and deliver. Marlon Moore dropped a big play on a perfect pass from the quarterback, and too often the offensive line buckles and forces Tannehill to run.
I may have mentioned it’s good to see the awful Jaguars in town next week, but how ugly would it be if their Chad Henne-led roster beat Miami?
There could be no excuses. The Jaguars suck, and Miami’s defense played against Henne every day for the last few years. They know him. Miami cannot, and should not, lose this game.
Can you imagine the reaction if it does? Jeff Ireland should book out a nuclear bunker for the following week just in case.