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Steve Young breaks down why 49ers-Dolphins is a ‘referendum’ on both teams



© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday might just be the most anticipated game of the season for the 49ers, at least before their potential division-deciding game in December with the Seattle Seahawks.

There are a host of former 49ers players and coaches coming into town on the Dolphins’ side, and both teams look like potential Super Bowl contenders.

At 8-3, the Dolphins, with Tua Tagavailoa, have the most efficient passing offense in the NFL. The 49ers, at 7-4, lead in just about every defensive category. It’s Mike McDaniel vs. DeMeco Ryans, a former Kyle Shanahan protege turned head coach, and one who is soon to be a head coach.

Steve Young joined Tolbert & Copes on Thursday to preview the matchup and explained why he believes the game will be a “referendum on a couple of things.”

“One is the defense,” Young said. “Is our defense ready for primetime against the Bills and the Chiefs and the Dolphins? That’s the challenge for the defense.”

The other, for the Dolphins, is Tagavailoa’s standing. He’ll face arguably the league’s best defense, and one which has not allowed a second-half point in four weeks.

Given that the Dolphins went up 30-0 in the first half last week and didn’t put up a point in the second half against the Texans in a 30-15 win, there are ways around that. But it’s a major challenge that Young thinks could dictate the NFL MVP race.

“Tua, I think is a legitimate MVP candidate,” Young said. “And if he comes in to San Francisco and if Tua is able to do what you just described, people are gonna have an emotional bend to give it to Tua rather than to Patrick [Mahomes] because Patrick has already been there.”

It’s a major opportunity for both sides.

If the 49ers can’t stop the Dolphins offense, and they were already shredded by the Chiefs’ offense, what does that say about them in a potential Super Bowl matchup?

“I think this is an interesting game because if the Dolphins could come to San Francisco with this defense and the way that this team is set up to play down the stretch, everybody believes the 49ers — we know we’re going to be there,” Young said. “All of a sudden the Dolphins come in and handle things, then Tua looks like an MVP and the Dolphins and what we learn about ourselves — there’s some big stuff to learn.”

The same thing holds true for Miami, Young said.

“That’s why this week’s kind of fun, because it’s same for the Dolphins, right? They’re an upstart, Tua, same kind of thing,” Young said. “We shut them down, keep them under 20, then all of a sudden, the referendum’s back on them. Like, maybe you’re not what you thought you were.”

A win would keep the Dolphins tied for the AFC West lead with the Bills at 9-3. A 49ers win would keep them at least a game ahead of the Seahawks. A loss would keep them in first, but with the same record.

Listen to the full interview below. You can listen to every KNBR interview on our podcast page at knbr.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Catch Tolbert & Copes weekdays from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. on KNBR 104.5 / 680 and streaming live on KNBR.com.