SAN FRANCISCO — The 49ers asserted themselves on both sides of the ball against the Dolphins on Sunday. And yet they had a hard time dispensing of the visitors from Miami. The Dolphins hung around long enough to cut the score to 20-13 about halfway through the fourth quarter, and got the ball soon after that with a chance to drive to a tie.
It was probably a little more dramatic than the Candlestick Park crowd had anticipated. But the tension finally disappeared in the time it took Colin Kaepernick to run a 50-yard dash.
With 2:10 left, Kaepernick put the ball in Frank Gore's midsection on a zone-read play. The Miami defense collapsed on Gore in the middle of the field, while Kaepernick bounced around the left end and loped — there's no other way to describe those real-estate-eating strides — 50 yards to the end zone for a touchdown, delivering a 27-13 victory that was not particularly smooth, and certainly not easy.
"Great play call by Greg (Roman, the San Francisco offensive coordinator)," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "That was a big third-down conversion. We've been struggling on third downs, and to get that one to pop and get the touchdown was great. It was better than having to punt it back to Miami at that point."
The game was scoreless through the first quarter, and the 49ers (9-3-1) led just 6-3 at halftime. They finally gained some separation in the second half when they went largely to a shotgun formation and pistol offensive scheme, and when they forced Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins' rookie quarterback, to play from a deficit and throw deeper passes. Miami wound up with just 227 yards of total offense.
The Dolphins (5-8) showed some pluck by mounting a 13-play, 75-yard drive in a hostile West coast venue to draw within seven in the fourth quarter. They capped the march in spectacular fashion, too, tight end Anthony Fasano sprawling headlong and reeling in Tannehill's pass with one paw, then landing on his knee to convert a fourth-and-goal play from the 3-yard line.
The next two times the Dolphins got the ball, though, they turned it over on fourth-down incompletions from Tannehill.
In between, Kaepernick got loose for the longest scoring run of his short career. The second-year QB completed 18 of 23 passes for 185 yards when he wasn't being harried by Cameron Wake. The Miami defensive end sacked Kaepernick three times, beating right tackle Anthony Davis badly in the first half. Jared Odrick also had a sack for the Dolphins.
"We got beat a couple times, just beat up front," Harbaugh said. "And one time, for sure, (Kaepernick) got fooled by the coverage."
All the scoring came on special teams before halftime, with David Akers outdueling Miami kicker Dan Carpenter two field goals to one. The play that changed the game also came on a kick.
The Dolphins forced the Niners to go three-and-out on their first possession of the second half. But Marcus Thigpen muffed Andy Lee's punt, and C.J. Spillman recovered for San Francisco at the Miami 9-yard line.