There was nothing dull about that one.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s first-quarter foot injury looms large over the 49ers. But not much will dampen the mood of what was an enthralling, 33-17 win over the Miami Dolphins led by Brock Purdy and another sterling defensive performance.
It opened with an eyebrow-raising, whiplash touchdown from the Dolphins. Former 49er Trent Sherfield ran a crosser over the middle of the field, Tua Tagavailoa’s (and every quarterback involved in this game) hot spot. Safety Tashaun Gipson was caught flat-footed, with his weight shifting in the other direction, and was completely caught out.
Sherfield ran for 75 yards. It was 10-second touchdown drive.
The 49ers responded with a field goal drive, with Garoppolo leaving the game on a cart after his foot got stuck in the ground on a two-man sack from Jaelan Phillips and Jerome Baker.
But that explosiveness came to a screeching halt for a Miami offense that is widely considered one of the league’s best.
The Dolphins came back with two-straight three-and-out drives.
And with Brock Purdy at the helm, the 49ers took an early lead. He found Christian McCaffrey on a third-down conversion, got a make-up defensive pass interference against Brandon Aiyuk (one was missed on Deebo Samuel a play earlier) and got his first career touchdown pass on a wide-open throw to Kyle Juszczyk in the flat.
A Miami field goal followed… but that represented the entirety of their scoring output until the start of the fourth quarter.
Nick Bosa had an outrageous game, sacking Tagavailoa twice in the first half to take the NFL lead at 13.5 sacks. He had a punctuation mark at the end, too.
After that Dolphins field goal, they punted twice, ending their first-half output.
Meanwhile, Purdy led an eye-catching drive while the Dolphins sent blitz after blitz his way. He found George Kittle on a hot read throw over the middle for 19 yards that kick-started the drive on a 3rd-and-10.
Two plays later, Purdy hit Jauan Jennings down the right sideline and he rumbled for a 19-yard gain. Two plays after that, he found Christian McCaffrey for an 18-yarder.
It nearly ended in 49ers heartbreak. McCaffrey dropped a bullet dime from Purdy in the end zone. But they went right back to him a play later, and McCaffrey, wide open this time, made the catch for a half-ending touchdown and a 17-10 lead.
The second half began with an outrageous defensive performance.
On the Dolphins’ side, it was nothing short of disastrous. Tagavailoa went into the half looking legitimately shook. He was throwing high and/or behind consistently and it cost him.
The first error was not entirely on Tagavailoa. Jeff Wilson Jr. slipped on a route over the middle and Jimmie Ward jumped over top of him to pick it off.
Purdy led another impressive drive and converted on an aggressive fourth-and-1 QB sneak call. But a botched end-around pitch to Deebo Samuel set the 49ers back and forced a field goal to go up 20-10.
Deja vu followed.
This time, it was entirely on Tagavailoa, who had a layup of a throw available to Tyreek Hill. He somehow overthrew him and Deommodore Lenoir snatched it for a second-straight interception.
Again, though, the 49ers failed to end the drive in the end zone. McCaffrey had another drop, this time on a second-and-5 would-be conversion.
San Francisco took the field goal to go up 23-10, but it felt like a precarious situation that could come back to haunt them.
And while Tagavailoa was having a howler of a game and the Dolphins offense lay dormant, it was a matter of time before they made it interesting.
Miami immediately responded with a four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. It was another chunk play to get in the end zone, this time a 45-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill. Talanoa Hufanga bit on a route underneath, leaving Mooney Ward alone, and unable to cover Hill over the middle.
Those were the first points the 49ers have allowed in a second half since Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs. They were the only second-half points they’d allow.
Things started to feel sketchy for the 49ers at that point. Purdy missed Brandon Aiyuk badly on a would-be conversion and the 49ers punted.
But the defense held strong, though two Kyle Shanahan challenges were required.
The first was a Trent Sherfield conversion that was called back, leaving a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 19-yard line.
Miami converted it, but they didn’t convert later in the drive.
A Drake Jackson swatted pass at the line of scrimmage set up a fourth-and-2, which, for a moment, looked like it would be a completion to Mike Gesicki.
Shanahan challenged again. And again, he was successful, as Gesicki couldn’t pin the ball to the side of his helmet.
The 49ers responded with what was a mostly impressive, game-sealing drive. They got down to the Dolphins’ 11-yard line, then somehow lost 21 yards on failed runs, a sack and a holding call. Robbie Gould, to the relief of Shanahan, knocked home a 48-yard field goal to put the 49ers up nine with just over two minutes remaining.
The result was just about sealed at that point, but there was a bit more to come.
Nick Bosa got his star moment, forcing a sack-fumble on Tagavailoa that was recovered for a touchdown by Dre Greenlaw. It was Bosa’s third sack of the game and has him, as a firm Defensive Player of the Year candidate, leading the league with 14.5 sacks.
Tagvailoa was relieved at that point for Skylar Thompson, who threw a meaningless, but fairly funny interception to Fred Warner. It was a four-turnover game for the 49ers, who stifled a dynamic Dolphins offense in a game that represents how seriously they should be considered as contenders.