Armando Salguero: Week after week, Miami Dolphins aren’t making enough big plays

SAN FRANCISCO It’s fourth down, and 10 yards separate the Dolphins from extending a drive deep inside 49ers territory. If someone, anyone, makes a big play and extends the drive, perhaps the Dolphins will score a touchdown and tie the game and maybe, just maybe, eventually win this game.

But the Dolphins, down 20-13, don’t convert this play.

Their rookie quarterback throws a pass to a wide receiver that didn’t have a reception last year, has only four catches this year, and 10 for his career. That, believe it or not, is what Miami’s search for a crunch-time playmaker turns up.

So why would anyone be surprised when probably the most crucial pass of the game falls incomplete?

Despite that failure, the game still isn’t over. The Dolphins defense is asked to maybe save the day by stopping the 49ers at their own 35-yard line. There are, after all, still four minutes to play and maybe the Dolphins can still steal this one.

But the defense folds. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick runs 50 yards untouched for a touchdown that seals Miami’s fate.

Again, the quarterback ran for a TD.

He ran 50 yards untouched.

So why would anyone be surprised the Dolphins cannot beat a team like San Francisco on the road? Why would anyone be surprised these Dolphins have lost five of six games?

When we see this kind of not-good-enough play during the game’s critical moments and we see it week after week, why would anyone be surprised the Dolphins will finish without a winning record for the fourth consecutive year?

“We have to make plays,” coach Joe Philbin lamented afterward. “We can’t let their quarterback run for 45 yards or whatever distance it was. We have makeable plays on their side of the field, we have to make them. We have to make plays. It’s not a complicated game.

“We did not do that well enough, and that’s why we’re where we’re at.”

The Dolphins are at a point in the season where there really are no answers for their problems and fewer and fewer people are really interested anyway.

This team is not going to the playoffs (again) and that game against Jacksonville next week? There will be plenty of good seats available!

It’s not good when the fans are angry. It’s terrible when they don’t care. But what do you expect when there are dozens of plays made by big-time playmakers every week in the NFL and the Dolphins make so precious few of those?

The Dolphins offense needs a nickname. One fan on Twitter Sunday offered MIAmbien.

Miami coaches tired to find a spark Sunday by using running back Lamar Miller ahead of Daniel Thomas. They tried to slow the charge of the 49ers pass rush by calling well-timed screens.

And still the offense scored only one touchdown — marking the fourth time in the last five games that’s been the high point of the unit’s production.

“I thought our coaches put together a good plan of attack,” Philbin said. “But not enough production. We didn’t have enough production. Thirteen points. I’ve been quoted that 18.9 points is hard to win in this league and 13 points is 5.9 points less. It’s tough.”

An optimist would suggest the Dolphins aren’t that far from being very good. If they add a wide receiver or two, and perhaps a tight end, and another offensive lineman, they’ll be set.

Well, that supposes all those players make big plays and quarterback Ryan Tannehill becomes a good quarterback. That optimism also overlooks the fact the Dolphins defense also lacks playmakers.

Let’s face it, Cameron Wake is the only consistent playmaker on defense. We know this because while Wake is usually around the quarterback — he had three sacks Sunday — the Dolphins don’t ever seem to fall on a fumble or pick off many errant passes.

They don’t even consistently hold on to potential interceptions when those are in their grasp. And it’s not just one guy. It’s a bunch of guys.

The Miami defense is something of a mirage. Yes, some of the statistics are encouraging, but that’s just a hallucination because when the game is on the line, the group often yields.

That’s what happened Sunday.

“We haven’t mastered the concept of complementing one another,” Philbin said. “We go down and kick a field goal, we give up a touchdown. We score a touchdown, they get another. We didn’t get it stopped.”

And, Philbin noted, the problem hit on special teams as well. The Dolphins defense stopped the 49ers on a third-quarter drive. But punt returner Marcus Thigpen fumbled the punt and gave the 49ers the ball at the Miami 9-yard line.

San Francisco, a good team, answered by scoring a touchdown.

Winning football for the 49ers. Losing football for Miami.

Dolphins fans have seen this kind of thing for years. This year it’s all packaged differently and coached differently. But the results are mostly the same.

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