For the second time in five weeks Saturday, Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers toward victory in the fourth quarter.
In Los Angeles, Kaepernick’s three touchdowns — including a rushing score of his own — were capped when the oft-criticized quarterback dove for a two-point conversion with 36 seconds left to claim a 22-21 win over the Rams.
And in Week 12, Kaepernick’s 409-yard, three touchdown start fizzled just yards from the end zone as a late 49ers surge against the Dolphins fell just short.
Both games offered rare shimmers of hope in a disappointing season. Aside from Kaepernick, 22-year-old rookie DeForest Buckner — one of the 49ers’ few bright spots on defense — also stood tall Saturday with two tackles and a sack.
After being benched for violating team rules last Sunday, Gerald Hodges returned to the starting lineup to rack up 13 tackles (nine solo) Saturday. The 25-year-old has played a key role this season with 79 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in 14 games.
Kelly complimented his defense:
“I don’t think anything changed in our defensive scheme. I think our players just executed. It’s a lot of the same calls that we really ran in the first game against them…And I thought we tackled better. It seems like when we tackle well on the defensive side of the ball we play well and I thought we tackled better in this game obviously than we did in the Atlanta game.”
The 2.8 yards per rush the 49ers gave up Saturday was the least they have allowed all the season. They also have Todd Gurley‘s number, stifling Gurley to 67 yards on 23 attempts. But special teams sputtered Saturday, with the 49ers giving up 129 yards on four kickoff returns.
San Francisco was forced to punt seven consecutive times before Carlos Hyde fumbled after being hit by E.J. Gaines and was sidelined with a knee injury. Hyde’s season ended just 12 yards short of 1,000 rushing yards. Hyde needed 50 yards entering the game and was limited to just 38 yards on 13 rushing attempts.