SAN FRANCISCO (AP)
The San Francisco 49ers are headed toward the playoffs on the shoulders
of their surprisingly dominant defense.
Kevan Barlow rushed for two touchdowns
to end lengthy scoring drives, and Zack Bronson made two of San Francisco's
three interceptions as the 49ers recorded their second straight home shutout,
beating the Miami Dolphins 21-0 on Sunday.
The 49ers (10-3) were never spectacular
in the most impressive victory of their resurgent season, in which they've
matched their win total from the last two seasons.
The Niners were simply overwhelming,
with several clock-eating drives and an afternoon of suffocating defensive
play that took them to the verge of a playoff berth with their sixth win
in seven games.
Jeff Garcia shook off bruised ribs
to pass for 133 yards and a touchdown to rookie Eric Johnson, while Garrison
Hearst rushed for 103 yards, giving him 1,042 yards in his amazing comeback
San Francisco, which shut out Buffalo
35-0 two weeks ago, was just as dominant against the Dolphins. Six defensive
starters have fewer than two years of NFL experience, but the 49ers' young
unit has grown up quickly.
The Dolphins (9-4), midway through
a tough stretch of three games in 13 days, followed their best performance
of the season with one of their worst.
Instead of moving close to the playoffs
with a victory in its first trip to San Francisco since 1992, Miami got
a sobering prognosis of its inconsistent offense's true abilities in its
second shutout loss in five games. The Dolphins finished with 174 total
yards - just 78 in the first three quarters.
They couldn't get inside San Francisco's
40 until the fourth quarter, when Jay Fiedler was intercepted by Jason
Webster with 4:31 to play. The Dolphins made another late drive, but Bronson
picked off a long pass in the end zone with 19 seconds left.
Fiedler and the Dolphins' offense
appeared revitalized in last Monday's 41-6 rout of Indianapolis, but they
couldn't mount any significant drives against the 49ers.
Fiedler, wildly overthrowing several
receivers, was intercepted by Bronson on Miami's first drive. Fiedler finished
16-of-28 for 149 yards. Dana Stubblefield and Ronnie Heard put savage hits
on Fiedler to stop drives in the second quarter, with Heard forcing a fumble
in 49ers territory.
Meanwhile, Miami's defense spent
most of the game on the field, where it was gradually worn down by the
49ers' tremendously patient mix of running and passing.
After opening the scoring on a 56-yard
drive following Fiedler's first interception, San Francisco made a 64-yard
drive of nearly seven minutes in the first half, ending with Johnson's
12-yard scoring catch 2 seconds before halftime on a pinpoint pass from
The 49ers essentially put away the
game on their first drive of the third quarter. San Francisco converted
two long third downs during the 17-play, 98-yard drive over 11 exhausting
minutes, capped by Barlow's second short TD run.