Miami Dolphins

Defense makes goal-line stand to lift Dolphins past 49ers 31-24

Adam Beasley recaps the Dolphins victory over the 49ers

Adam Beasley, Miami Herald's Miami Dolphins reporter, recaps the Fins' victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 27, 2016.
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Adam Beasley, Miami Herald's Miami Dolphins reporter, recaps the Fins' victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 27, 2016.

Six wins. Zero losses.

But plenty of heartburn for the Dolphins’ fan base.

The edge-of-your-seat Dolphins won for the sixth straight time Sunday, beating the San Francisco 49ers 31-24. And they did so by again making a decisive play (or two) in the latter stages of the game.

This time, the defense stood tall.

A Dolphins lead that reached 17 points in the fourth quarter dwindled to seven, and the Niners had the ball inside the Dolphins 10 with five seconds left.

First-and-goal from the 6? Byron Maxwell knocked away a would-be touchdown pass to Torrey Smith.

“I just felt like it was coming at me,” Maxwell said. “I like that. ... There’s no better feeling in the world than coming through for your teammates when you know what’s on the line. I love that.”

But the Dolphins would have to do it again. Somehow, the snap, drop-back, pass and breakup took all of three seconds (let it never be said the Dolphins get home cooking from the timekeeper at Hard Rock).

So that past was simply prologue to this:

Second-and-goal, and the final play of the game. Colin Kaepernick dropped back, found no one open, and so he tried to scramble. He would only make it to the 2-yard line. That’s where Ndamukong Suh caught him from behind and saved Miami’s day.

“Pass play,” Suh recalled to reporters some 30 minutes later. “[I] came inside, made an inside move, and [Kaepernick] tried to escape and get up into the B gaps. I had to work back and try and eliminate that.”

Suh is being modest. The 305-pound defensive tackle chased down one of the league’s most elusive quarterbacks.

Kaepernick had 113 rushing yards on the day. He needed 115.

“Impressive,” Cameron Wake said of Suh’s play.

Indeed — and perhaps season-defining. The Dolphins simply don’t make it easy. During their perfect November, they’ve won because of late heroics from Ryan Tannehill, Kiko Alonso and Kenyan Drake.

Kiko Alonso, Miami Dolphins linebacker, talks about the final play of the game when he and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh stopped 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick from scoring a touchdown to tie the game.

Sunday, it was up to Maxwell and Suh to prevent what would have been an embarrassing and damaging collapse.

The Niners (1-10), who are playing for nothing but their next contracts, could have packed it in down three scores. Instead, they came to life, gaining 197 of their 475 yards from scrimmage in the final quarter.

And the Dolphins, who scored on 5 of 7 possessions to build that 17-point lead cushion, managed just 16 yards of offense in two fruitless final drives. Making matters worse, those two three-and-outs took only 2 minutes and 22 seconds off the clock.

So the defense, already gassed from chasing Kaepernick all around the field, was asked to close out a game on the final drive.

“We should have put them away,” Maxwell said. “It shouldn't have even been that close.”

But each week, it is. Had a few breaks gone against them, the Dolphins could easily be 4-7, and talking draft.

Instead, they’re 7-4 and heading to Baltimore for their biggest December game since 2013. The Ravens beat Cincinnati Sunday to improve to 6-5. The winner Sunday will have a leg up on the AFC’s second wild card spot.

And waiting for the Dolphins in Baltimore? Ex-Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace, whose unhappy two years in Miami ended with then-coach Joe Philbin benching him in the 2014 finale.

Think Wallace is ready for some payback?

“7 days!” Wallace blared on Twitter not long after his game ended.

But before we get too far ahead, let’s take a moment to savor how far the Dolphins have come.

They’ve now won six straight for the first time since 2005, and have already checked off the most important item on their to-do list.

They needed an answer on Ryan Tannehill long term, and probably have it.

Tannehill may have never been better than he was Sunday, completing 20 of 30 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 34 yards on six carries on a day in which Jay Ajayi could never get going. (Ajayi had just 45 yards on 18 carries Sunday, but did score a touchdown.)

“He saved us a couple of times, made some great plays on the move,” said Dolphins coach Adam Gase.

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase talks about the teams win over the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 27, 2016.

The 49ers stacked the line for much of the game, betting that Tannehill couldn’t make enough plays to beat them. Gase found it disrespectful. Tannehill saw it as an opportunity.

And when he found Leonte Carroo for a 15-yard scoring strike with 11:31 left in regulation, he put the Dolphins up 31-14. The game should have been over. But again, nothing has gone to plan around here this year.

Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins wide receiver, looking forward to seven wins in a row after defeating the San Francisco 49ers for their sixth consecutive win.

But why do they make it so hard on themselves — and those who support them?

“I'd like to know myself,” said tackle Sam Young.

Added Tannehill: “We find a way to win. I’ve been saying for weeks now, that’s the kind of team you want to have — a team that finds a way to win, whether its offense, defense or special teams. Most games it’s going to take everybody.”

Sunday was no different.

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