Maiocco's Instant Replay: 49ers 27, Dolphins 13

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Maiocco's Instant Replay: 49ers 27, Dolphins 13

SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers' offense sputtered for most of three quarters in Colin Kaepernick's fourth start at quarterback.

But the 49ers maintained their 1 1/2-game lead in the NFC West on Sunday due to a strong performance from the defense and a key takeaway on special teams.

The 49ers don't get many style points for their 27-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Candlestick Park

The 49ers (9-3-1) can clinch a spot in the NFC playoffs next week with a victory over the New England Patriots. The 49ers finish the season at the Seattle Seahawks and at home against the Arizona Cardinals. The Seahawks remain 1 1/2-games behind the 49ers in the division standings with a blowout victory over the Cardinals on Sunday.

Kaepernick had a solid statistical day, completing 18 of 23 passes for 185 yards and adding a 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. But the 49ers had a difficult time converting on third downs and the game remained tight into the second half.

But the Dolphins had a lot more difficulty moving the ball against the 49ers.

The 49ers' big break came early in the third quarter when Dolphins return man Marcus Thigpen muffed an Andy Lee punt. C.J. Spillman recovered at the Miami 9-yard line.

Anthony Dixon gained 8 yards around the left side. Then, Frank Gore carried it into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 13-3 lead with 11:17 remaining in the third quarter.

Gore tied the franchise record of 50 rushing touchdowns, a mark he now shares with Hall of Fame running back Joe Perry and Roger Craig. Perry had 68 rushing touchdowns with the 49ers, but 18 came when the 49ers played in the All-America Football Conference. The team does not recognize statistics in the non-NFL games that 49ers played from 1946 to 1949.

Gore also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth time in his eight-year career.

Gore's 19-yard gain on the first play of the fourth quarter set up Anthony Dixon for a 1-yard touchdown run to give the 49ers a 20-6 lead with 14:27 remaining. The play capped a 13-play, 83 yard drive that took 7 minutes and 26 seconds.

FIRST-HALF FIELD GOALS: A lackluster first half ended with a bizarre sequence of plays and the 49ers settled for David Akers' 37-yard field goal to take a 6-3 lead on the final play before the intermission.

The 49ers had a first down at the 11-yard line, but a mix-up in protection left Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake with a clear path to Kaepernick for his third sack of the game.

LaMichael James was stopped for a 2-yard loss on second down, and with the clock winding down, Kaepernick's incomplete throw out of bounds barely left enough time for Akers' kick.

Earlier, Akers hit from 30-yards out. The Dolphins scored their only points of the first half on Dan Carpenter's 28-yard field goal. Later in the third quarter, Carpenter nailed a 53-yard field goal.

SMITH SETS MARK: Outside linebacker Aldon Smith took over sole possession of the 49ers' single-season sack record. Smith ran over Miami Dolphins rookie left tackle Jonathan Martin to pick up sack No. 18.5 of the season. Smith previously shared the 49ers franchise record of 17.5 sacks with Hall of Famer Fred Dean (1983).

Smith leads the NFL in sacks. He is four sacks behind Michael Strahan for the NFL single-season record, which Strahan set in 2001.

With 32.5 sacks in his first two seasons, Smith has more sacks in his first two seasons than any player since the NFL began keeping sack statistics in 1982.

ROOKIE DEBUTS: James and receiver A.J. Jenkins made their NFL debuts on Sunday. James got the call as an active player when the 49ers decided to deactivate veteran Brandon Jacobs, while Jenkins got onto the field for limited action with Mario Manningham out with a shoulder injury.

James carried the ball eight times for 30 yards and added a 15-yard reception, while Jenkins didn't record a catch.

Jacobs was not among the 49ers' active players. Jacobs has been outspoken in recent days via social media against 49ers coaches, his playing time and the team's fans.

Jacobs was seen prior to kickoff talking with 49ers general manager Trent Baalke on the field. The two men had a brief chat, and Baalke concluded it with what appeared to be an encouraging tap on Jacobs' chest.

THIS 'N' THAT: Defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs sustained what appeared to be a serious right knee injury in the second quarter. He was carted into the locker room and was immediately ruled out for the game. Dobbs is the only 49ers player who has a role on each of the 49ers' special-teams units. He returned to action after missing a game for being arrested on suspicion of DUI and alleged marijuana possession. . . The 49ers entered the game with six consecutive victories at home against AFC opponents. The 49ers outscored the opposition 146-44 in those games and did not surrender a touchdown in four of those games. . . . In the five previous games in which the 49ers lost the previous game in the Jim Harbaugh era, the 49ers did not allow a touchdown. The 49ers lost to the St. Louis Rams last week. The Dolphins got into the end zone on tight end Anthony Fasano's 3-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Ryan Tannehill with 7:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Until now, Kyle Shanahan’s hiring by the San Fracisco 49ers looked great because of his two-and-a-half predecessors – the last days of Jim Harbaugh, the misplaced concept of Jim Tomsula and the couldn’t-make-chicken-marsala-out-of-old-Kleenex problems surrounding Chip Kelly.

But now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has told us all that Shanahan has a gift we in the Bay Area know all too well. Specifically, that Shanahan took too long to call plays to the Super Bowl the Falcons vomited up to the New England Patriots.

Now who does that remind you of, over and over again?

Yes, some things are evergreen, and too many options in this overly technological age seems to be one of them. Data in is helpful, but command going out is what bells the cow. Ryan said Shanahan was, well, almost Harbaugh-tastic in his timing.

“Kyle’s play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in,” Ryan told Bleacher Report. “As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, ‘There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.’ You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

“With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”

And the reason this matters is because the Atlanta Shanahan had multiple good options on every play. In San Francsco, at least in the short term, he’ll be dealing with minimal options. That could speed up his choices, as in “What the hell, we don’t have Julio Jones.” But it could also mean more delays, as in, “Okay, him . . . no, maybe not . . . no, he just screwed up that play last series . . . oh, damn it, time out!”

In short, it’s growing pains season here, children. On the field, on the sidelines, and maybe even in Kyle Shanahan’s head.