Two years ago, both the Miami Dolphins and 49ers wooed Jim Harbaugh to be their next coach.
The Niners won that courting competition and landed their high-profile man, luring him away from nearby Stanford and giving him a $25 million, five-year contract. And Harbaugh delivered immediately by taking his new team to the NFC Championship Game and oh-so-close to a Super Bowl as a rookie NFL coach.
Now, he has his 49ers (8-3-1) poised for another postseason run next month, with Miami (5-7) next up on the schedule today at Candlestick Park.
As rarely as these teams see each other being on opposite coasts and playing in different conferences, they certainly have pursued some of the same faces — most notably, of course, being Harbaugh.
Then, last spring, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith flew to South Florida for a visit with the Dolphins during a time when San Francisco’s brass explored the possibility of signing Peyton Manning.
Manning wound up in Denver, Smith stayed put on a new three-year deal, while Miami drafted Ryan Tannehill. Smith has since lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick after suffering a concussion against the Rams on Nov. 11.
Miami’s immediate future — and long-term success, too — is riding on Tannehill’s ability to get a stagnant offense going down the stretch for a Dolphins team determined to finish strong and avoid a fourth consecutive losing season after overhauling the operation heading into 2012.
“You can’t win games consistently only scoring 19 points,” Tannehill said. “That’s a big focus of ours, to find a way to get more points on the board whatever way it is. We have to find a way.”
He will face pressure all day from NFL sacks leader Aldon Smith as well as Justin Smith.
Both teams boast stingy, opportunistic defenses and mobile young quarterbacks still learning the ups and downs of the NFL through trial by fire.
Though the 49ers have hurt themselves of late with a plethora of penalties — hardly the way the NFC West leaders want to be playing in December.
With the season’s stretch run ahead and Seattle close behind, San Francisco plans to do all in its power to play mistake-free football against the Dolphins.
“We have had some big ones that have really stopped some drives,” Harbaugh said. “Some of them were really, really questionable, in our opinion. … There have been some big ones that have stopped drives or extended drives for the other team. That’s not the way we want to play. That’s not the 49er way of playing football.”
The 49ers, clinging to the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff picture behind 11-1 Atlanta, realize they can’t afford any slip ups the rest of the way.
“We’re not pressing. We’re not panicking here,” Staley said. “These are huge games coming up, especially with the situation of us losing last week and Seattle winning. The division’s very tight. These four games are huge games, all four of them.”