Dolphins' defense delivers again
MIAMI - Joey Porter yanked off his helmet and gave it a jubilant fling, done with it for the day. With that, the Miami Dolphins' latest victory celebration was under way.
Porter's game-clinching sack punctuated another strong defensive effort, and the surprising Dolphins helped their playoff chances yesterday by beating the San Francisco 49ers, 14-9.
The Dolphins had possession for less than 22 minutes but held the opposition without a touchdown for the third game in a row, their first such stretch since 1973. San Francisco reached Miami's 21 before its final threat ended when Shaun Hill was sacked by Porter on fourth and 10 with 1:02 left.
"We kept bending but never breaking," Porter said. "We made the plays when we had to."
The Dolphins (9-5), who remained tied with the Jets and Patriots for the AFC East lead, won for the seventh time in eight games. It's quite a turnaround for a team that went 1-15 last season.
"We hung in there, as we have all season, and look at us now," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. "It's a great time to be a Dolphin, no doubt about it."
The Dolphins can earn their first playoff berth since 2001 by sweeping their final two games. They've surged into contention with four victories by less than a touchdown since Nov. 1.
The 49ers (5-9) fell short in their bid to beat an AFC East team for the third week in a row.
San Francisco ran 79 plays to 42 for the Dolphins, but Miami tight ends scored the only touchdowns on first-half passes from Chad Pennington - a 61-yarder to David Martin and a 19-yarder to rookie Joey Haynos.
Miami had the ball for less than 10 minutes in the first half, but led, 14-3, at halftime, and needed only three plays on offense to take the lead for good. Pennington threw deep to Martin, who outmaneuvered Mark Roman to make the catch and sprinted for the end zone.
A 27-yard punt return by Davone Bess set up the Dolphins' second score, on the completion to third-stringer Haynos, who made the first catch of his career.
From there the Dolphins nursed their lead. Miami's Dan Carpenter hit the crossbar on a 49-yard field goal attempt with 2:36 left, giving the 49ers the ball at their 39. They reached Miami's 21 before Hill spiked the ball to stop the clock, and he threw two more incompletions before NFL sack leader Porter got to him.
Porter was in typical form beginning with pregame warmups, when he ventured to the 49ers' side to taunt tight end Vernon Davis. Porter increased his season sack total to 17 1/2, and cornerback Nate Jones had his first two sacks of the season.
"We've got a little swagger to ourselves," Jones said. "We know if we don't let the other team in the end zone, we're probably going to win."