Ryan Tannehill spent six glum minutes in the bowels of rickety Candlestick Park on Sunday fielding questions about the Dolphins’ latest failure, a 27-13 loss to the 49ers.
He uttered the word “frustrating” no fewer than four times — including twice in five seconds.
If Tannehill was repetitive, he had good reason: The second half of his much-scrutinized rookie season has essentially been the same bad movie, replayed every Sunday afternoon.
Once again, Tannehill put his team in position to compete late. And once again, neither he nor the rest of his overmatched offense could make the handful of plays needed to win it.
Down a touchdown with the ball at San Francisco’s 35-yard line late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Tannehill threw four consecutive, rally-killing incompletions, including an overthrow of Davone Bess, who was a step behind coverage streaking down the seam.
The result: Another opportunity to change national perceptions — and maintain thin playoff hopes — missed. And a fifth loss in six games, dropping Miami to 5-8 on the year and assuring the team will not have a winning record for the fourth consecutive season.
“None of us enjoy the situation we’re in right now,” said Tannehill, who completed just 17 of 33 passes for 150 yards and the team’s lone touchdown. “We don’t enjoy losing. We don’t enjoy preparing hard each week and not playing to our full potential on Sunday.
“I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but you’ve got to make the plays that are there,” Tannehill added. “You can’t win in this league by scoring as few points as we are right now.”
And certainly not when you combine a sputtering offense with a suddenly gaffe-prone special-teams unit that at times was more effective at going after one another than the opposition.
The Dolphins essentially gifted the Niners (9-3-1) a touchdown after Marcus Thigpen muffed a punt inside Miami’s 10-yard line. And Jonathan Freeny spoiled a perfect effort by Dolphins punter Brandon Fields by inexplicably running into the end zone instead of downing Fields’ kick at the 3.
After the latter miscue, Fields gave Freeny a light shove in — getting back to that popular word — frustration. After Fields was done barking at Freeny, special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi gave him an earful.
“We shoot ourselves in the foot week after week,” Thigpen said.
But the Dolphins’ miscues weren’t limited to just the kicking game. The Dolphins managed just 227 total yards, and while they ran the ball effectively — tallying 94 yards on 4.3 yards per carry — they had no choice but to throw late.
Down 20-6 a half-minute into the fourth quarter, Tannehill engineered the team’s only touchdown drive, moving the Dolphins 75 yards on 13 plays. On fourth-and-goal from the 3, the call was for a quarterback sneak, but Tannehill audibled out of it when he saw San Francisco’s alignment. Instead, he threw a fade to Anthony Fasano, which the tight end made count by scraping his knee on the ground before going out of bounds.
It was only Tannehill’s third passing touchdown in the past 22 quarters.
Meanwhile, the defense — which had its own share of breakdowns — was able to corral Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the ensuing possession, forcing a three-and-out and giving Tannehill a chance to play hero.
Instead, he misfired on seven of his last eight passes.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, did his final damage with his legs, breaking off a 50-yard dash to the end zone to give San Francisco its third rushing touchdown of the game and a two-touchdown cushion. The Niners’ promising triggerman outplayed Miami’s Tannehill, completing 78 percent of his passes and accounting for two-thirds of his team’s total offensive output.
For the Dolphins, the loss bookended an eight-day stretch in which the gulf between themselves and the league’s elite — first New England and now San Francisco — proved relatively slim, but real nonetheless.
In each of the last two Sundays, the Dolphins trailed by just one score in the fourth quarter. Last week, the defense couldn’t get off the field. This week, the offense couldn’t finish.
“It’s very repetitive,” said Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who had three sacks in a losing effort. “I’m tired of saying it every time: ‘Almost, almost. Way to hang in there. Moral victory.’
“There’s no moral victory,” he added. “You either win or you lose. It’s pass-fail. We didn’t get it done, and I’m tired of saying it, honestly.”