By Sam McPherson
The San Francisco 49ers dropped to 1-10 on the season Sunday with a 31-24 last-second loss to the Miami Dolphins on the road. But, the team was so close to scoring the tying touchdown in the final seconds, once again showing that the 49ers players have not quit on head coach Chip Kelly or on this lost season. Despite the close defeat, this was one of the best games the San Francisco team has played since winning the season opener back on Sept. 12 against the Los Angeles Rams.
With 10 straight losses now, the 49ers’ season is long over in terms of postseason opportunity. Despite injuries, retirements and roster defections that have left this once-proud team decimated in terms of overall talent, the team’s last three games have been extremely competitive. While that may sound like finding a silver lining in the dark clouds of the 2016 season, it’s really just an endorsement of Kelly’s coaching tenure with the San Francisco organization.
For the second time in four games, the 49ers offense and Colin Kaepernick ran up almost 500 yards of offense. The San Francisco QB threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, while also running for 113 yards. Running back Carlos Hyde had 95 total yards and a TD catch, while nine different players caught a pass from Kaepernick in this game. The offense was 7-for-14 on third-down conversions and 2-for-2 on fourth-down conversions. Kaepernick also was able to drive the team down the field in the final minutes in pursuit of the potential game-tying score, although his scramble on the final play of the game came up just two yards short of pay dirt.
The only downside to the day on offense was two turnovers, although the interception Kaepernick threw wasn’t really his fault. Tight end Garrett Celek’s fumble was problematic, of course, because in a game like this that came down to one final possession, an early turnover certainly plays a big role.
Yardage-wise, the 49ers turned in their third-best performance of the season, allowing just 358 yards to an offense on a five-game winning streak. The San Francisco defense did a great job of shutting down the Miami running game, holding Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi to just 45 yards on 18 carries. The challenge for the 49ers was muting mobile Miami QB Ryan Tannehill; he completed 66.7 percent of his 30 throws for 285 yards and three TDs, and ran for 34 yards himself on just six carries.
Eight different times the San Francisco defense made stops behind the line of scrimmage, which means the 49ers were getting good penetration all day long. But, the inability to force a turnover hurt San Francisco in this game. The credit goes to Tannehill and his coaching staff for doing what they needed to do to win this game, despite the best efforts of the 49ers defense.
Special Teams: B
Kicker Phil Dawson was perfect on his four kicks, including a 36-yard field goal, while punter Bradley Pinion had a very good game (45.8 average, including a 59-yard punt and one inside the 20-yard line). However, the kick-off coverage wasn’t great, as the 49ers allowed a 78-yard return in the third quarter right after scoring to make it a three-point game. The defense held on that Dolphins possession, but the eventual field-position battle deteriorated for San Francisco, and Miami scored on its next possession to go back up 10 points.
Kelly and his staff have this 49ers roster playing hard, and it’s clear from the last few games that San Francisco is not quitting on this season, despite a 10-game losing streak. The 49ers were so close to getting this game to overtime, and to do so on the road against a team playing to extend its winning streak was impressive. If this game had been at Levi’s Stadium, it’s a good possibility that the 49ers might have won it. Kelly also has Kaepernick playing the best ball he’s played in two years or so. That’s a big positive for the San Francisco organization.
The 49ers go to the Windy City next week to face the 2-9 Chicago Bears, which looks like a winnable game for San Francisco. The Bears are playing a third-string QB right now that just made his first NFL start, and the 49ers’ level of effort the last four games could pay big dividends next Sunday. Chicago is also missing a few starters due to league-mandated, performance-enhancing drug suspensions, so the Bears’ morale isn’t very high at the moment.