Niners can't break through to finish Dolphins

The 49ers took it right to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. They took the football right up and down the field at them, finishing with an advantage of more than 16 minutes in time of possession, 70 yards in total offense and a dominating 24-11 edge in first downs. But it wasn't enough as the 49ers couldn't put the ball in the end zone, as Miami was able to do twice and then hold on for a 14-9 win.

That just about says it all for a game that secured a sixth consecutive losing season for the 5-9 49ers, the longest streak of losing in the franchise's 63-year history.

But the 49ers didn't much look or play like losers in this game. They dictated the action throughout the contest, but ultimately came up with only three Joe Nedney field goals to show for five trips inside the Miami 29-yard line, including three trips inside the Miami 21.

"We were able to execute our game," said 49ers running back DeShaun Foster, who did an admirable job in place of Frank Gore with 101 yards rushing and receiving. "We just couldn't score."

And that's why the 49ers came up just short of a third consecutive upset victory over a AFC East opponent, even though they outplayed the Dolphins throughout the game between the 20-yard lines.

The Niners, trailing by five points, had one final opportunity to dent the Miami end zone in the final minutes after they took over at their own 39-yard line with 2:36 to play after Miami kicker Dan Carpenter bounced a 49-yard field goal attempt off the crossbar.

Just as they had done throughout much of the day, the 49ers cruised down the field with quarterback Shaun Hill directing a multi-faceted attack.

But they ran into trouble as they approached the red zone, and NFL sack leader Joey Porter – contained throughout the afternoon by an effective 49ers protection scheme – beat tackle Barry Sims around the right edge to sack Hill on a fourth-and-10 play to settle the issue with 1:07 to play.

It left the 49ers thinking of what might have been if they just could have executed better at the end of offensive drives. The 49ers assembled consecutive drives of 16, 16 and 13 plays between the second and fourth quarters, yet only came away with six points total on those three drives.

"There were opportunities out there for us to win this game," said Hill, who completed 30 of 46 passes for 233 yards. "They executed better than we did and that's what it comes down to. We didn't execute well enough in the red zone, and anytime you're kicking field goals and not scoring touchdowns, that really hinders you. If we're sitting around kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, it's going to be tough to win."

The Dolphins, who improved to 9-5 to maintain their share of first place in the AFC East, had no problem scoring their touchdowns on quick-striking plays in the first 23 minutes of the game.

The first came just five minutes into the game when quarterback Chad Pennington, on Miami's third offensive play from scrimmage, looked downfield and found backup tight end David Martin with a step on safety Mark Roman.

Martin reeled in the pass over Roman, who was turned around on the play, then broke a weak tackle attempt by the stumbling safety and trotted into the end zone to complete a stunning 61-yard scoring play.

"We could have certainly made the tackle," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. "But Roman just got turned around and lost the ball in the air. At the very least, we just have to make the tackle there."

After the 49ers answered with a 10-play drive that resulted in Nedney's 38-yard field goal – the first of five San Francisco possessions of nine plays or more – the Dolphins were set up with optimum field position after Davone Bess returned a punt 27 yards to the San Francisco 34 midway through the second quarter.

Four plays later, Pennington looked over the middle for his tight end again. This time, he found Joey Haynos in the end zone, and the rookie made the first reception of his career a big one to complete a 19-yard touchdown play that put Miami ahead 14-3.

"We just miscommunicated on the back end," Singletary said. "Everybody was set to a particular coverage, and what happened is, you have one group calling one defense, and another group calling something else. Trying to get everyone on the same page – it was just miscommunication."

That was all the scoring the Dolphins would need. And it was all the scoring – and just about all the offense – they would get the remainder of the game.

The Niners received stellar play the rest or the way from their defense, which allowed Miami just 97 total yards the remainder of the game, giving San Francisco a 318-248 edge in total yardage.

The San Francisco offense spent the rest of the day knocking on the Dolphins' door. But they could never push their way through it.

Foster rushed for 76 yards on 18 carries and Hill completed passes to eight different receivers – including five or more to four different receivers – and the 49ers were able to keep drives moving by converting 8 of 17 third-down plays. Miami, meanwhile, was a dismal 1 of 7 on third downs, allowing San Francisco to compile a 38:13-21:47 edge in time of possession.

But it did the 49ers little good.

"That was kind of the story of the day, the story of the game," Singletary said. "I just felt that they did the things that they needed to do to keep us out of the end zone. And, of course, some of those things we helped them well.

"But I'm very thankful for what the offense did today. They kept the defense off the field, and it's a shame that we only got the points that we got out of it. We executed well, we just could not get into the end zone. So that's very frustrating."

And so, the 49ers saw their two-game winning streak come to an end after winning three of their past four games despite playing well much of the day in several facets of the game. San Francisco ran 79 offensive plays to Miami's 42.

"It was frustrating for us to give up the touchdowns we gave up," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "They didn't earn any touchdowns today. We just messed up in our coverage a couple of times and they capitalized on it. That's what good teams do. That's what is frustrating for us. We go out there and played great defense and the second half we shut them out. We should have done it the first half."

Said Singletary, "We knew exactly what we needed to do coming in. We knew the game would come down to this, maybe the last minute, the last 40 seconds. It was just that kind of day. We just came out on the short end."

But not by much.


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