By Morris Phillips
Ten-game losing streaks don’t always come with a crescendo, but the 49ers’ first-ever such skid came with a big finish, right there on the floor of Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, two plays to end months of frustration—or not.
With the 49ers’ rallying—narrowing a 31-14, fourth quarter deficit to just a touchdown—and driving, they earned themselves two shots from the Dolphins’ 6-yard line to tie the game, and potentially end a losing streak dating back to the second week of the season.
On the first play, Colin Kaepernick’s attempt to connect with Torrey Smith on a slant sailed slightly behind the receiver, where Miami’s Byron Maxwell was lurking to possibly make a game-ending tackle short of the goal line. But had Kaepernick made an incrementally better throw—and Smith come up with the catch—the fleet receiver may have scored in this instance. Tantalizing because the normally-challenged Kaepernick had already belied his reputation for poor red-zone play by connecting with Smith on a perfectly-placed fade pass that started the 49ers’ fourth-quarter rally.
On their second shot—with two seconds remaining—Kaepernick dropped back to pass, then ran when no receivers came open near the goal line. Running free momentarily, that moment ended fast when the quarterback was greeted by linebacker Kiko Alonso and trailing, menacing lineman Ndomukong Suh short of the goal line.
With the game decided, Kaepernick picked himself up off the turf and unbuckled his chinstrap, while Alonso jumped up and sprinted toward the Dolphins’ bench after flinging his helmet to the sky. While the Dolphins exalted in their first six-game win-streak since 2005, the 49ers’ were forced to deal with a franchise first-ever, 10-game losing streak. Ironically, after Week 5, both the Dolphins and Niners had identical 1-4 records.
“You have to get in the end zone,” Kaepernick said afterwards. “Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. We had a pass play called, stepped up, thought we had a seam to get in there, and didn’t make it in.”
On Sunday, once again, the 49ers started fast only to see things unravel. On their first drive of the day—after the Dolphins punted—the 49ers marched 62 yards, culminating in Carlos Hyde’s catch-and-run for an 11-yard touchdown. In seven of the 49ers’ 10 consecutive losses, they’ve led in the first half, and did so again in Miami.
The Dolphins were missing three of their five starting offensive linemn on Sunday, and their absence showed on Miami’s initial possessions. But after some adjustments, the Dolphins came up with a pair of second quarter touchdowns to lead at the break. Ryan Tannehill’s 16-yard pass play to Dion Sims with 2:17 remaining put the Dolphins up 14-7 at the break.
According to Coach Chip Kelly, turnovers were the real reason the 49ers fell short, 31-24 on Sunday as opposed to any last gasp shortcomings. Smith agreed, citing a ball that glanced off his hands and was picked off by Alonso in the third quarter.
In the second quarter, tight end Garrett Celek’s fumble led directly to a Dolphins’ touchdown drive that broke a 7-7 tie and gave Miami the lead for good.