SAN FRANCISCO – Penalties and self-inflicted blunders did the Miami Dolphins in again.
"We shoot ourselves in the foot week after week," punt returner Marcus Thigpen said.
For the second consecutive week errors in the punting game proved costly. In the second quarter linebacker Jonathan Freeny mistakenly carried a punt across the goalline for a touchback instead of downing the ball. That started San Francisco at its own 20 instead of inside its 5-yard line and led to a field goal.
"As soon as I caught the punt I saw the ref blowing his whistle," Freeny said. "When I stepped on the line I wasn't aware that I stepped on the line because I was walking forward. The whistle had blown and I was looking at the ref to give him the ball, but they said it doesn't matter."
In the third quarter Thigpen lost possession on a punt deep in San Francisco territory. The 49ers recovered the muffed punt and it led to a touchdown. And then there was a questionable pass interference call against cornerback Sean Smith on a fourth-and-one. It led to an early fourth quarter touchdown. That's 17 points Miami surrendered because of mistakes.
Miami falls to 5-8 and almost certainly out of the AFC playoff picture, It marks the fourth consecutive year the team will not finish with a winning record, tying the futile club mark from 1966-69. Perhaps 8-8 earns a wildcard berth, but don't count on it. No one in the Miami lockerroom was thinking about playoffs, however.
"I'm still trying to digest this one," linebacker Kevin Burnett said.
In last week's 23-16 loss to New England, the Dolphins also had costly punting game errors. Punter Brandon Fields mishandled a snap early in that game and then safety Jimmy Wilson committed a roughing the kicker penalty. Both led to touchdowns. It was a similar scenario this week.
Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a chance to get his team back in the game in the fourth quarter. He drove Miami 75 yards in 13 plays, throwing a well-placed pass to tight end Anthony Fasano who made a sweet diving catch in the end zone. That cut the Dolphins' deficit to 20-13.
But with the game on the line the Dolphins' offense stalled. Tannehill drove Miami 27 yards. But he threw high on a third-and-10 throw to wide receiver Davone Bess from the 49ers' 35 with 4:16 left. It was a very tight window as Bess wasn't really open. Tannehill, however, took the blame.
"You've got to find a way to get that ball in there," he said.
On the following play, fourth down, it was the same thing. Tannehill overthrew wide receiver Marlon Moore, who wasn't really open either.
"It's frustrating," Tannehill said. "I had plenty of chances to make a throw at the end and I didn't make the throw."
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick (18-for-23 passing, 185 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, passer rating of 100.2) scored on a 50-yard run with 2:10 left to provide the final margin. He led an offense that gained 321 yards.
Tannehill ended the game 17-for-33 for 150 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. His passer rating was a below-average 74.1. Miami gained 227 yards. But once again, Miami couldn't score.
Defensively, Dolphins end Cameron Wake (three sacks) was a monster. Linebacker Karlos Dansby (12 tackles) was good, too. And the Dolphins didn't allow the 49ers their first successful third-down conversion until late in the third quarter. The defense's big blunder was that crucial Smith penalty.
But the Dolphins' issues are bigger than one mistake.
"It's a lack of play-making at critical times," coach Joe Philbin said. "It's evident."