MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The 49ers’ offense played its best game of the season on Sunday but lost its grip at key moments in the game.
“I thought they competed, but in this league when you lose the turnover battle, you’re not going to win,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said after his team’s 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins sunk the organization to new depths with a 10-game losing streak.
“We had two critical turnovers that really hurt us. . . I think it came down to the turnover game.”
The 49ers rolled up 475 yards of total offense and 25 first downs, along with a 50-percent success rate on third downs. But the two turnovers may have prevented the 49ers from snapping a nine-game losing streak.
Tight end Garrett Celek caught a pass from Colin Kaepernick to the Dolphins’ 15-yard line in the second quarter. But cornerback Byron Maxwell stripped Celek, and linebacker Kiko Alonso made the recovery.
“Especially when you’re in the red zone and you make a mistake like that, that hurts the team a lot,” Celek said. “Especially when they get the ball and they run down and score a touchdown like that. It should’ve been 14-7 us. But it was the other way around.”
The Dolphins scored on an 84-yard drive to take a lead they would never relinquish.
“Usually whenever I catch a ball I get two hands on it,” Celek said. “For some reason I didn’t that time. I regret it.
“Me personally, I feel like I cost the team with that fumble.”
Celek was not the only one who felt as if he let his teammates down. Still trailing 14-7 at the start of the first half, Kaepernick’s first pass attempt of the third quarter deflected off the hands of Torrey Smith for an Alonso interception.
The Dolphins ended up scoring a field goal to wide their lead to 17-7.
“I dropped a ball that led to a pick,” Smith said. “I feel like I lost us the game. If you ask me, I fee like the momentum coming out of the half. I don’t feel like they stopped us. We only stopped ourselves. I feel like I lost us the game.”
Kaepernick led a late rally that ended 2 yards shy of sending the game into overtime.
The 49ers drove from their own 38-yard line with 1:44 remaining to the Miami 6 with :02 left. The 49ers sent four receivers into the end zone, but Kaepernick opted to run. The opening was quickly closed up as Ndamukong Suh and Alonso combined for the tackle just short of the end zone.
“We had a pass play called,” Kaepernick said. “(I) stepped up, thought we had a seam to get in there, and didn’t make it in.
“There was a crease there. I thought I saw it. Kiko did a great job of recovering, coming back and making a play.”
Kaepernick rushed for 113 yards on 10 rushing attempts. Kaepernick completed 29 of 46 pass attempts for 296 yards with three touchdowns, the one interception off Smith’s hands, and a passer rating of 94.1.
Kaepernick became the fifth quarterback since the 1970 merger to rush for 100 yards and throw for three touchdowns. He joined Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota,
Despite the sixth consecutive loss with Kaepernick at quarterback, he appears to be improving each time he takes the field.
“He really got his start in the Buffalo game, so each game he’s gotten better and progressed,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing you can really do to simulate playing in a game, especially for a quarterback because a quarterback is not going to get hit in practice. A quarterback is never going to get hit in preseason really. It’s those live reps that are invaluable for them.”