Mike McDaniel did not want his return to Santa Clara, California, to be about his reunion with Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers, but the two coaches both left their mark on the game during a decisive drive in the fourth quarter Sunday.
With the Miami Dolphins trying to tie or win the game in the final 11 minutes, McDaniel twice decided to go for it on fourth down and Shanahan twice pulled off successful challenges to stymie the Dolphins.
Miami ultimately fell short 33-17 after its second fourth-down try failed — because of a successful challenge by Shanahan.
Mike Gesicki originally appeared to make a clutch 3-yard catch, only replay review determined he didn’t complete the catch as he went to the ground, trying to pin the ball against his helmet.
“I’m not in the booth or on TV, so I don’t see all the angles, but it seemed like all the angles that I saw it looked like a catch,” the tight end said. “I thought it was a catch, especially when you call it on the field.”
The 49ers took over at their own 36-yard line and drove for a field goal to clinch the win.
The fourth-down call, however, was far from McDaniel’s boldest in the fourth quarter and his aggressiveness nearly let Miami (8-4) pull off the comeback at Levi’s Stadium.
After a third-down completion from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to wide receiver Trent Sherfield was overturned by Shanahan’s first successful challenge, the Dolphins kept their offense on the field for fourth-and-1 at their own 19 line.
Tagovailoa made a short throw to star wide receiver Tyreek Hill on the next play to keep the drive alive.
As bold as the call was, the decision to go for it increased the Dolphins’ win probability, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, and McDaniel said he made it because he was confidence in the play call he had queued up.
“Part of the job is to do things that make the most sense for the team,” the first-year coach said. “I know exactly what’s going to happen if it doesn’t work and it’s not living in hope. It was more that I feel like there was six minutes-plus to go, we were down by six ... and I was pretty confident in the particular play.
“That’s the job of a head coach: to do things for the right reasons and not because you’re going to possibly be second guessed.”
Sherfield makes splash in return
Sherfield did not take any time to get his share of revenge on San Francisco (8-4) this weekend.
The wideout, who caught just 20 passes for 98 yards last year for the 49ers, caught a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage to give Miami a quick 7-0 lead.
With three defenders focusing on Hill, Sherfield found an open spot in the middle of the defense, made an uncontested catch and took off for his second touchdown of the season.
On a frustrating day for the Dolphins’ offense, Sherfield — and his continued improvement — is a bright spot. Sherfield has seven catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the last three games, turning into a legitimate No. 3 wide receiver to go with Hill and star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
Hill closes in on record
Next Sunday should be a historic one for Hill.
After pulling in nine catches for 146 yards this week, the wideout is now just 9 yards away from breaking the Dolphins’ single-season record for receiving yards.
Former wide receiver Mark Clayton currently holds the record with 1,389 yards in the 1984 NFL season.