MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The biggest thing Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel wanted out of Miami’s matchup against San Francisco, besides a win, was for his team to experience a playoff atmosphere.
Most of the players on the Dolphins roster have never played in a playoff game, but Sunday’s 33-17 loss to the 49ers gave them a glimpse at what to expect as they push toward the postseason.
“The idea is to lay it all out on the line for each other and then deal with the consequences,” McDaniel said. “So as frustrating as it was, I think that we are well-equipped and we have the guys in the locker room that collectively will take this piece of adversity and get better from it, and that’s the objective.”
Miami struggled against San Francisco’s top-ranked defense, and Tua Tagovailoa was uncharacteristically inaccurate.
McDaniel said the team was collectively “a little off” and didn’t execute enough against a playoff team like San Francisco in the way they had during their five-game winning streak.
Tagovailoa completed 18 of 33 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns. He threw two third-down interceptions, both of which looked very off target.
It was the first time this season Miami lost a game that Tagovailoa started and finished.
“It starts with me offensively,” Tagovailoa said. “Turnovers with third downs, communication errors. In that retrospect, it’s hard to win a game when you’re not on your Ps and Qs, and you’re not dialed in. So a lot of that has to do with just understanding what we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re trying to do.”
Tagovailoa added that the Dolphins won’t take the loss lightly, but they are not worried moving forward.
The loss showed that the Dolphins, who entered Sunday with the third-ranked offense, need to clean up communication issues in the passing game and inconsistencies in the running game if they are going to make noise in the playoffs.
Miami (8-4) is second in the AFC East behind Buffalo (9-3), who the Dolphins will face on the road in Week 15. The Dolphins beat the Bills at home in Week 3.
Despite almost nothing working for Miami’s offense Sunday, they did have two explosive touchdowns, starting with a 75-yard strike from Tagovailoa to receiver Trent Sherfield on the first play of the game. Tagovailoa also found Tyreek Hill in the fourth quarter for a 45-yard score. Hill had nine catches for 146 yards — his sixth 100-yard receiving game this season.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Miami’s offensive line was missing both of its starting tackles, Terron Armstead and Austin Jackson. A week after giving up four sacks when Armstead exited against Houston with a pectoral injury, the Dolphins allowed San Francisco’s Nick Bosa to record three sacks.
In the running game, Raheem Mostert said he personally should have performed better.
“I could have been game changing,” he said. “I wish I could take that stuff back.”
Miami finished with just 33 yards on the ground. Mostert had 30 yards on seven carries against his former team. Jeff Wilson had just one carry for three yards.
The Dolphins had trouble defending the pass against San Francisco backup Brock Purdy, but Miami’s pass rush totaled five tackles for loss, four sacks and 10 quarterback hurries. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins recorded a career-high 12 tackles.
Tagovailoa’s 79.7 passer rating was his lowest all season. A lot of his misses were on passes over the middle of the field. Tagovailoa said afterward that some of his errant throws were because of miscommunication with receivers, but he shouldered the majority of the blame for Sunday’s poor offensive performance.
Tagovailoa left the game late in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. He said afterward that he felt “as good as I can be coming off of a game,” adding that the team will assess his health further. ... WR Jaylen Waddle left briefly with a lower leg injury. ... LB Elandon Roberts suffered a calf injury in the second quarter.
174 — Tagovailoa had thrown 174 passes without an interception before throwing interceptions on back-to-back passes Sunday.
Three of Miami’s final five games of the season are on the road, and none of them will be easy, starting with next Sunday night's matchup with Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers.
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