Stout defense, efficient offense carries Niners to win

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesAnthony Dixon (24) celebrates with Niners teammates Daniel Kilgore

While their performance was neither pretty nor dominant, the 49ers maintained their streak of winning games following a loss by beating the Miami Dolphins 27-13 on Sunday at Candlestick Park.

San Francisco is now 6-0 in games following a loss under coach Jim Harbaugh, and Sunday was the first time the defense allowed a touchdown in those games.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick got off to a rocky start, as he was sacked four times in the first half and fumbled once — though the ball was recovered by the 49ers.

At the end of the second quarter, he sailed a pass over Michael Crabtree’s head on third down, drawing boos from the crowd and forcing the team to settle for a field goal that gave the 49ers a 6-3 lead at halftime.

“We just had a few bad third downs where we didn’t convert, things like that,” Kaepernick said of the first-half struggles. “But we knew we had a good game plan, we knew we had good plays, we just had to go out there and execute.”

The momentum shifted in the third quarter when Dolphins returner Marcus Thigpen muffed a 49ers punt, allowing C.J. Spillman to recover the ball for the 49ers on the Miami 9-yard line. Running back Frank Gore, who ran for 63 yards on 12 carries, drove it into the end zone from the 1-yard line two plays later to make it 13-3.

After the teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Kaepernick iced the game with a 50-yard touchdown run with 2:19 left in the game.

It was a key moment for the young quarterback after crucial mistakes contributed to last week’s loss in St. Louis.
“[He] acquitted himself very well in this game,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick, who finished 18-of-23 for 185 yards. “Made some big-time throws, ran the offense, did a good job running the football.”

Aldon Smith came into the game tied with Fred Dean for the most sacks in a season for the 49ers at 17½, but wasted no time in claiming the top spot for himself with a sack in the first quarter. He added to his total with another in the closing minutes of the game, putting his season total at 19½. The NFL record for a single season is 22½, set by Michael Strahan of the New York Giants in 2001. 

The rest of their defense made its presence known as well, highlighted by safety Donte Whitner lifting Dolphins running back Reggie Bush into the air and slamming him to the turf in the second half.

“When you’re physical as a defense, it gives the offense something to think about,” Whitner said.

The defense will have its work cut out for it next week, as the 49ers travel to New England to face the league’s highest-scoring offense in the Patriots.

REPORT CARD

OFFENSE

QB Colin Kaepernick was efficient (18-of-23, 185 yards) while overcoming four sacks. He put the icing on the cake with a 50-yard TD run with 2:10 left to play, making it a two-score margin. RB Frank Gore (12 carries, 63 yards, TD) wasn’t used much, while rookie RB LaMichael James finally saw action. WR Michael Crabtree had nine catches for 93 yards. Grade: B-

 

DEFENSE

LB Aldon Smith continued his pursuit of the NFL single-season sack record by adding a pair, raising his total to 19½, breaking the Niners’ mark held by Fred Dean (17½). The Dolphins could only muster 227 yards and needed a spectacular catch by TE Anthony Fasano to score their lone TD. Grade: B+

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

The punt coverage unit turned in the biggest play of the day by recovering Marcus Thigpen’s fumble early in the third quarter to set up a quick TD. James showed some of his talent on kickoff returns (three returns, 79 yards). P Andy Lee averaged 48.1 yards on four punts, while K David Akers made both of his FG tries. Grade: B+

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