When the 2020 schedule came out and Dolphins fans saw a Week 5 game against the defending NFC Champs in San Francisco, most chalked that up as a loss. But quite a bit has changed since then, including the NFL’s schedule. And instead of a loss, the Dolphins went into Levi’s Stadium and dominated the 49ers, earning a 43-17 win.
With the win, Miami improved to 2-3 on the season and injected new life into their potential playoff hopes. With the schedule changes, the Dolphins could be favored to win four of their next six games.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins win over the 49ers.
Aggressive Play-calling Leads to Offensive Explosion
The Dolphins entered Sunday’s game averaging 23.3 points-per-game, a respectable figure despite the 1-3 record. However, a week after settling for five field goals in a 31-23 loss, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey seemed focused on getting his club in the endzone.
Miami opened their first offensive series with a 47-yard connection from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Preston Williams. From there, it seemed like the Dolphins offense marched up and down the field at will, often attacking San Francisco’s secondary.
Miami totaled 43 points on the road in this one, a figure the club hadn’t reached since scoring 45 in 1986. The 436 yards of offense were the most this season and the team’s most on the road since 2016. The Dolphins’ nine scoring drives were Miami’s most since 1991.
The first half offense caught fans off guard for how effective it was. Miami ran 33 offensive plays and gained 281 yards in the half, an average of 8.5 yards-per-play. The Dolphins scored three times from the two-minute warning and finished with 30 points overall. It was just the third 30-point half since 2000 for the Dolphins.
Preston Williams Returning to Form in Dolphins Win over 49ers
Williams went from being an unheralded, undrafted fringe prospect, to one of the league’s most exciting rookie wideouts last season. But in November, Williams suffered a torn ACL which ended his year. Since, he’s been diligently working to regain his form and confidence.
And after an uneven start to 2020, Williams broke out in a big way against the 49ers. Williams caught four passes for a career-high 106 receiving yards and a touchdown. He had pair of plays over 30 yards, including the touchdown, as well as another 19-yard gain.
His ability to create separation and sore over smaller defenders to secure catches was something unseen from Williams since prior to his season-ending injury.
“I’m getting closer to that year mark with my knee,” Williams said. “I’m starting to get more comfortable out there … just trying to get back into that football shape and get me feet back under me. I know a lot earlier in the year I was falling off some routes. Now I’m starting to feel better every week.”
Pass Rush Gets Home, Helps Secondary in Dolphins Win over 49ers
The Dolphins entered Sunday’s contest with nine quarterback sacks, but they had struggled t contain mobile quarterbacks this season. San Francisco’s starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, coming off a high-ankle sprain, looked hobbled all day, and the Dolphins took advantage of that.
Miami teed off on 49er quarterbacks, bringing pressure and getting eight quarterback hits. That’s the second-highest total this season, behind the 10 QB hits against Jacksonville (the Dolphins other win this season).
Miami tallied five sacks on Sunday, the most in a game since 2018. Five different defenders registered a sack in this one: Jerome Baker, Emmauel Ogbah, Elandon Roberts, Zach Sieler and Andrew Van Ginkel. Ogbah and Van Ginkel each had a strip-sack.
The consistent pressure from the Dolphins defense forced San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan to make a change under center. The 49ers went with C.J. Beathard in the second half in an effort to protect Garoppolo.
This pressure helped the Dolphins secondary find its form in this one as well. The return of Byron Jones certainly helped, too. Xavien Howard picked up an interception in a third-straight game and Bobby McCain added one as well. Miami’s pass rush and secondary limited the 49ers to just 128 net passing yards, the fewest allowed by the Dolphins since 2018.
Jason Sanders Could Be Best K in Dolphins History
One of the clear bright spots through the inconsistent play early this season has been Jason Sanders. After a five-field goal performance in Week 4, Sanders followed that with another stellar effort in this one. He netted all five of his field goal tries and each of his four point-after attempts.
Sanders 14-for-14 start to the season broke a Dolphins record for most consecutive field goals made to open a season. Pete Stoyanovich (1990) and Olindo Mare (2001) shared the previous 13-for-13 mark to open a season for Miami.
Sanders has now netted his last 16 field goal attempts, going back to last season. That’s tied for third among most consecutive makes in franchise history. The record is 19 straight makes by Mare (1999). Sunday’s game marked the third time in Sanders’ career that he’s hit five field goals in a game, which set a new franchise record.
It Might Not Be Tua-Time Just Yet
On Wednesday, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said: “Right now, we feel like Fitz gives us the best chance to go out to California, complete and try to win a ballgame.” Those words seemed prophetic, considering Fitzpatrick’s performance and the Dolphins dominance overall.
Fitzpatrick completed 22-of-28 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns. He posted a passer rating of 154.4, which is the second-highest mark in his 16-year career and the third-highest single-game mark in franchise history (Fielder, 156.0, at Dallas 2003; Tannehill, 155.3, v Oakland, 2018). Fitzpatrick has now thrown over 300 yards in five of his past seven games.
“People hate me, people love me, depending on the week,” Fitzpatrick said.
The Tua-time crowd will likely be silenced for a time after Fitzpatrick’s performance. Coming off an ineffective two interception game in a loss last week, the cries for Tua Tagovailoa grew louder. Some saw Week 5 as the chance to switch to Tagovailoa, but an injury to starting left tackle Austin Jackson may have slowed that momentum. And after his performance this week, Fitzpatrick is likely the starter for the foreseeable future.
Tagovailoa remains the backup for now, in part, because Flores believes Fitzpatrick gives the Dolphins the best chance to win. And with the shuffled schedule putting winnable games on tap, Miami will push for the playoffs.
Flores says he’s confident that should Tagovailoa be forced into a game that he could go in there and be effective, but he doesn’t feel the fifth overall pick is ready to take over as starter.
“I think (Tagovailoa) continues to improve every day,” quarterbacks coach Robby Brown said. “He comes in, he works hard from a mental perspective. He works hard from a physical perspective. He’s sitting under a really smart guy right now that helps him out. He asks good questions during the game sitting there listening to the play. Then when we come over and look at the pictures, he asks good questions, so I think his development, I’ve been pleased with it so far. It’s just … keep doing what he’s doing, and going in to prepare every single day. He’s done a good job with that.”