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49ers have inside track for No. 1 overall pick

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The Miami Dolphins spent the holiday week
eating room service food and practicing thousands of miles from
home, all to prove they were the best of the NFL's worst two teams.

And for the first time in Miami's dismal season, something went
according to plan.

Randy McMichael caught a 15-yard touchdown pass with 10:35 to
play, and the 49ers fumbled five times in the fourth quarter of the
Dolphins' 24-17 victory Sunday, leaving hapless San Francisco as
the league's only one-win team.

It was the game of the weak, the battle of the bads -- a meeting
of two once-proud franchises brought to historic lows by injuries,
infighting, poor management and insufficient talent.

After last week's loss at Seattle, the Dolphins holed up in San
Francisco for a second training camp of sorts. Largely thanks to
its stifling defense, Miami finished its road trip at .500.

"If we would have lost this game after spending six days in San
Francisco, it would have been really miserable," said cornerback
Patrick Surtain, who recovered two fumbles. "To come out here with
a win, even though these guys are 1-9, we showed a lot of heart. It
was huge for us, and hopefully we can build on this."

San Francisco's surreal inability to hold on to the ball was the
most eye-catching part of a game decidedly lacking in artistry,
from the 16 punts to the seemingly endless series of gaffes and
stumbles. Miami (2-9) snapped its three-game losing streak with
just 200 total yards.

Capped by Derrick Pope's 1-yard fumble return for the clinching
touchdown with 3:10 left, the Dolphins scored 17 points off San
Francisco's fumbles in the fourth quarter to get the first
victories for interim coach Jim Bates and starting quarterback A.J.
Feeley.

Hopefully, Bates -- the Dolphins' defensive coordinator until
Dave Wannstedt's resignation two weeks ago -- will remember only his
unit's strong performance, which included eight sacks, and not the
ineptitude of just about everything and everybody else.

"A lot of teams, when you are 1-9, you will not see the
determination and effort week in and week out that we have given,"
Bates said. "It is special to be part of this group."

Miami held San Francisco to 228 yards -- 69 on a desperate
last-minute drive culminating in Maurice Hicks' score with 37
seconds left.

Tim Rattay passed for 181 yards and fumbled three times for the
49ers (1-10), who lost their sixth straight and surged past Miami
for the inside track on the top pick in next April's draft. They've
also got an excellent shot at the worst record in franchise
history: the Niners went 2-14 in 1978 and 1979.

Once again, coach Dennis Erickson was baffled to see his offense
waste an outstanding performance by the defense. Rattay's offensive
line seems to regress with every game, and expected stars Kevan
Barlow and Brandon Lloyd have been invisible.

"I don't care who you have playing, you can't operate like
we're operating," he said. "We all feel helpless, sure. This is
just not the way I envisioned us functioning on offense. We have no
rhythm. It's been a mess, there isn't any other way to put it."

Fittingly for these teams, the game turned on turnovers. San
Francisco linebacker Derek Smith returned a fumble 46 yards for his
first career touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 10-7 lead,
but Surtain recovered Hicks' fumble moments later.

Miami reached the 1, then lost 14 yards -- and McMichael still
slipped between two defenders in the end zone for his fourth TD
catch of the season.

"In the fourth quarter, it's the same old story," Smith said.
"We give the ball away. You can't win if you make those
mistakes."

Rattay fumbled on consecutive plays on the 49ers' next drive,
losing the second one to set up a 50-yard field goal by Olindo
Mare, who missed a 30-yarder earlier.

Rattay then fumbled while getting hit in the end zone, and Pope
scored untouched with 3:10 left.

One play after dislocating his finger in the first quarter,
Feeley threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Chris Chambers. Feeley
danced in agony when he was hurt, but his battered body finally
felt better afterward.

"I don't know how I got the ball to Chris," Feeley said. "I
want to see the replay, because I couldn't grip it. I don't know if
I shot-putted it out there or what. When you win games, it makes
the pain go to the back of your head."

Game notes
Miami LB Zach Thomas suited up despite a hamstring injury,
but sat out most of the game. The five-time Pro Bowl player missed
two days of practice earlier in the week. ... Miami still can't run
the ball. Travis Minor rushed for 47 yards while starting in place
of Sammy Morris.