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5 takeaways: This team was always destined to go as far as the defense would take them

New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

On a bittersweet Sunday afternoon, the 49ers beat the Miami Dolphins by double digits while losing their starting quarterback for the second time this season in the process. While rookie quarterback Brock Purdy filled in admirably in Garoppolo’s absence, it’s become clearer than ever.

This teams ceiling was always going to be dictated by the defense

Once again, the 49ers' defense put on an absolute clinic, this time against a top-five offense that entered this game scoring over 30 points in four consecutive games and had averaged 34 points per game over that span. The 49ers held them to half of that average while never allowing Miami to run a single play in the red zone.

It was complete domination from the unit that has reset the standard of greatness in San Francisco in the midst of a season that they are poised to finish as a top-five unit for the fourth consecutive year.

This was the blueprint when this team was constructed. Build up the defense and create a unit that would keep offensive coordinators awake at night as they attempted to game plan for it.

They have always been the backbone of this team, and their ceiling was always going to be what determined the outcome of the 2022 49ers. That was the case when Trey Lance was the starting quarterback, it was the case when Jimmy Garoppolo took over in week 2, and it remains the case moving forward with Brock Purdy as the presumed starter for the remainder of the season.

The 49ers' defense forced four turnovers against the Dolphins and didn’t allow Miami to convert a single third down on the seven tries they had in this game. As long as they have their blue-chip talent on this side of the ball, they will be competitive on any given Sunday against any team in the NFL.

Nick Bosa is the frontrunner for the Defensive Player of the Year award

Bosa had one of his best games at the NFL level, registering three sacks to go along with seven pressures. That included a strip sack of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa that was scooped up by Dre Greenlaw and ran back for what was the game-sealing touchdown and the emphatic exclamation mark to cap off the outstanding showing by the 49ers' defense.

Bosa now leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks this season and has recorded at least one sack in each of the last six games. In fact, Bosa has recorded at least one sack in every single game that he has started and finished this season, with the lone exception being Week 5 in Carolina, where he missed the entire second half due to injury.

The seven pressures now puts Bosa at 62 for the season to go along with an 18.1 percent pressure rate which ranks among the elite in the NFL. Bosa is a game-wrecking force week in and week out and has firmly placed himself in the discussion for the most valuable non-quarterback in the entire league.

The race for the DPOY award is going to be electric down the stretch, as it appears Bosa and Micah Parsons are neck in neck in what could come down to a photo finish when all is said and done.

The 49ers have an ace in the hole that is invaluable

And his name is Robbie Gould. Seriously, having a kicker like this is one of those things that you take for granted when things are good and don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.

With the 49ers clinging to a one-score lead with just over two minutes remaining, they faced a 4th & 29 from the Dolphins' 30' yard line. A field goal here would all but end this game by pushing the lead to nine points, but at 48 yards, it was far from a gimme.

Unless your name is Robbie Gould, who did what he does and waltzed out onto that field and split the uprights about as perfectly as anyone could, ice water runs through his veins, and no moment is too big for the longtime veteran who will be turning 40 years old tomorrow.

Having someone you can rely on to drill a kick like that in a high-leverage spot is one of the ultimate luxuries in the sport of football, and we have seen Gould do it time and time again. Whether it was this week against Miami or on the frozen tundra in Green Bay, Gould has proven that he is the guy you want with the ball on his foot with the game on the line.

A miss there, and Miami gets the ball back near their own 40-yard line with a chance to potentially win the game with a last-minute touchdown drive. Gould and his Goulden leg never gave them a chance.

Christian McCaffrey is everything the 49ers could have hoped for

McCaffrey finished this game with 146 yards on 25 total touches, divvying up the damage he did on the Dolphins' defense between the ground and the air. McCaffrey had a rushing attempt and a reception go for 30-plus yards, providing a much-needed spark for a 49ers offense trying to find its footing in the midst of yet another abrupt quarterback change.

McCaffrey added a receiving touchdown just before halftime that put the 49ers up by seven heading into the break and broke off a 30-yard run late in the fourth quarter that all but iced the game for the 49ers by putting them in field goal range with the aforementioned automatic kicker waiting in the wings to seal this game.

While it’s easy to point to a tangible number for the statistics McCaffrey racked up on his actual touches, what is more difficult is quantifying just how much of an effect the gravity he provides with his pre-snap motion has on opposing defenses.

This is a special player who does things at his position that very few who have played the game have ever been capable of doing.Of course, thee 49ers gave up a haul to get him in the organization, but weeks like this are a strong reminder of why they were so willing to part with the capital that they did.

Kyle Shanahan is still the master

Shanahan is now 12-5 all-time against his former assistants, proving again that it is a tall task for the apprentice to top the master. There has been a lot of talk about McDaniel being the real brains of the organization during his time in San Francisco, which, quite frankly, was always off base but now looks beyond foolish, given the result of Sunday’s game.

Shanahan didn’t just beat McDaniel and a talented Dolphins team. He did it with a rookie 7th-round draft pick who was the last player selected in a draft that concluded just a few months back.

The 49ers managed to completely dominate the ball in this game, winning the time of possession battle by more than doubling the total amount of time that the Dolphins had with the football.

This was one of those games that truly encapsulate the culture that Shanahan and this staff have worked so hard building. Doubted coming in, left for dead when Garoppolo was hurt, and ultimately came out with a double-digit victory against a first-place team.