49ers vs. Dolphins: Thumbs up and thumbs down

Which way does the thumb turn for certain 49ers after their loss to Miami, including WR Isaac Bruce, TE Vernon Davis, OT Barry Sims, RB DeShaun Foster, domination in time of possession and first downs, S Mark Roman in coverage, QB Shaun Hill coming out firing, Dominique Zeigler as a punt returner, CB Nate Clements, a Sean Ryan sighting, SF's third-down success and much, much more? Check inside.

Thumbs down: And so goes away the 49ers' hopes for a .500 finish, which would have averted a franchise-record sixth consecutive losing season. It was really too much to ask since the 49ers started the season 2-7, but Mike Singletary and company gave it a pretty good run, and the way they're playing, they might not end up missing that sort of finish by much.

Thumbs up: Isaac Bruce continues to come on strong as a receiver the 49ers can count on in the clutch. Bruce came through with four receptions on third downs, turning each of those catches into first downs. Bruce finished with a game-high seven receptions for 71 yards and continues to be the most reliable receiving option in the San Francisco offense.

Thumbs down: Things got worse on the right side of the offensive line for the 49ers once starting right tackle Adam Snyder went out with an ankle injury. Veteran backup Barry Sims struggled in his place and displayed once again his best days are behind him and the 49ers need to consider other backup tackle options for the future. Sims simply had no answer for Porter when the 49ers desperately needed him to handle Porter 1-on-1 during the game-deciding sequence.

Thumbs down: So why, exactly, did the 49ers not have tight end Vernon Davis in the game to block Joey Porter on the decisive fourth-and-10 play in the final minute? Davis had done a fine job neutralizing the NFL's sack leader whenever he lined up against him throughout the day. Instead, the 49ers left Sims to go 1-on-1 with Porter with their chances of victory hanging in the balance.

Thumbs up: Let's give it up to running back DeShaun Foster for his fine performance in relief of Frank Gore. Foster hasn't been much of a factor this season, and certainly hasn't shown much during his limited opportunities, but when the 49ers asked him to carry the load Sunday, he did it with production and aplomb. Foster did a pretty good impersonation of Gore, running hard and showing power to finish his runs. Foster rushed for a game-high 76 yards on 18 carries, averaging 4.2 yards a pop, and also added 25 yards receiving on five carries in a fine effort.

Thumbs down: With Foster making things happen on the ground, why did the 49ers not attempt one single run among their final 22 offensive plays, all of which were passes? Foster didn't get one carry on San Francisco's three offensive drives in the fourth quarter, even though the 49ers were right there in the game and mixing in a run here and there might have been a good way to slow down the Miami pass rush and keep the Dolphins' defense off balance.

Thumbs down: It was a sorry sight to see Frank Gore wearing a red 49ers pullover sweater on a day that should have belonged to him during the first game of his career in his hometown before family and friends.

Thumbs up: It's good to see the 49ers using linebacker Manny Lawson as an every-down player again. His versatility adds to the defense, and his return to full-time status is one of the reasons the defense has been so competitive over the past month. Lawson was third on the team with four tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage.

Thumbs up: Hand it to the 49ers for once again being superb on third downs - on both sides of the ball. The 49ers converted a respectable 8 of 17 third downs offensively, and stoned the Dolphins throughout the day when they got into third-down situations, of which Miami converted on only 1 of 7.

Thumbs up: When you look at how much the 49ers controlled the ball without committing any turnovers, you kind of have to wonder how they ended up losing this game. When the 49ers control the ball for more than 38 minutes and have a 24-11 edge in first downs, that should most certainly add up to a victory.

Thumbs down: Safety Mark Roman has been conspicuous this season for some missed plays, and he looked horrible covering tight end David Martin down the field on a play that turned into a 61-yard touchdown reception. As a free safety, Roman should have no problem staying step for step with 265-pound tight ends, but his performance on this play was just terrible, and the easy touchdown played a huge factor in the outcome of the game.

Thumbs up: You've got to like seeing tight end Vernon Davis go airborne with the ball in his hands. Davis almost jumped clean over Miami cornerback Will Allen on a 17-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter. Davis is using his athleticism more and more to attack defenders, and it was also nice seeing him turn the corner with a direct handoff for an 11-yard gain – the longest rush of his career.

Thumbs down: Davis did several positive things Sunday, but it still must be pointed out during those moments of weakness when he becomes Stonehands Vernon Davis. Davis dropped a perfectly-thrown pass that was right in his hands during the second quarter, and it was a play that would have helped the 49ers get out of the shadow of their own end zone. He simply has got to make those catches.

Thumbs up: The 49ers did a fine job handling Miami's Wildcat Formation, and even broke it out a few times themselves offensively. The Niners were well prepared for this wrinkle in Miami's offensive plan and it was not a factor in the game.

Thumbs up: The 49ers did some nice damage with their four-receiver sets, and quarterback Shaun Hill was able to connect with several of his hot reads out of the slot to keep the offense moving.

Thumbs down: It doesn't do the 49ers much good to move up and down the field if they continually stall in the red zone. That happened way too many times Sunday for the 49ers, who came away with just six total points on consecutive drives of 16, 16 and 13 plays. They also stalled at the Miami 21 on their final chance to win the game in the final minutes.

Thumbs up: Watching Delanie Walker fight for first downs makes you realize he has become a legitimate offensive weapon that the 49ers need to incorporate into their attack as much as possible.

Thumbs up: There are some who want to jump on Dominque Zeigler for fielding a punt inside his own 5-yard line, but the feeling here is he did a fine job in his first outing as the team's punt returner simply by showing good hands and catching the ball on a day that featured swirling winds that could have been hazardous for a first-timer in that role.

Thumbs up: Quarterback Shaun Hill came out firing, completing each of his first six passes on his way to a 30-for-46, 223-yard passing afternoon. Once again, Hill displayed an ability to consistently move the offense, even though he struggled to do so in the red zone, which on this day was a reason to have the thumb bending the other way.

Thumbs down: When you allow a third-string rookie tight end to make his first career reception in the end zone, and it turns out to be the winning touchdown, something is not going right with your defensive coverage. Joey Haynos got loose in the middle of the field for a 19-yard TD reception in second quarter, and it proved to be the difference in the game.

Thumbs down: It was nice to see a Sean Ryan sighting as the burly tight end, who has been seeing some increasing playing time, recorded his first reception as a 49er – one of eight different San Francisco players to catch a pass Sunday.

Thumbs down: The 49ers played a losing battle in the fight for field position all afternoon, and that played a significant role in the outcome.

Thumbs up: Let's here it one more time for what QB Shaun Hill is able to do with his feet. Hill scrambled for 13 yards on third-and-long to keep a drive moving, and that's something he has been showing he can do all season. It's always good to have a QB that do damage with all his appendages.

Thumbs down: The 49ers actually punted after a 16-play drive in the second quarter, and how often do you ever see that happen? After reaching the Miami 29, they were pushed back to the 41, and on fourth-and-23 with 44 seconds left in the half, they had little alternative but to punt the ball away and have nothing to show for a drive that ate almost six minutes off the clock and could have given them some precious points before halftime that would have come in handy later.

Thumbs up: After missing the first game of his career, it was good to see cornerback Nate Clements back playing with a broken thumb, and playing well again in the secondary. There's nothing that deserves a thumbs up much more than playing well with a broken thumb.


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