Locking up their fourth consecutive season at .500 or worse is nothing to be proud of, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel for the Dolphins.
Those lights were visible on Sunday, despite the loss. In fact, in many ways, this game was a microcosm of their season.
The Dolphins defense held the 49ers to just 38 yards on eight carries in the first half while the 49ers scored just six points. The Dolphins were in it until the very end, until quarterback Colin Kaepernick's 50-yard touchdown run near the end of the game. Aside from that run, the Dolphins held the 49ers to a very forgivable 107 yards on 25 carries (4.3 YPA) against the league's third-ranked rush attack (5.3 YPA on the season).
The future is bright, but it would be much brighter if they were more efficient in pass defense. That was evident on Sunday, when Kaepernick went 18-of-23 for 185 yards through the air. No touchdown, no interception, just a highly efficient performance from the second-year quarterback making his fourth career start.
But the bright spots on third down and in the red zone gave the Dolphins a chance to win against the 49ers, as they have all year. The Dolphins allowed conversions on just two of 10 third downs, and allowed touchdowns on just two of four red zone possessions.
Struggles in between the 20s, stepping up in the key situations. Microcosm, indeed.
An improved pass defense would go a long way, as that is their most glaring weakness to this point, but the problems in that area can be attributed to both the coverage and the pass rush.
Especially if that pass rush was coming from more than one player.
Defensive end Cameron Wake is having a Pro Bowl season and added three sacks to bring his total to 14 on the season, matching his career high. The rest of the defense logged just one sack on Sunday, registered by defensive end Jared Odrick.
Microcosm, again, but it doesn't have to be that way forever. This unit will have the chance to improve together.
The Dolphins will be returning most of their starters on defense next year, and a lot of the pieces have been together for years prior to 2012. The only starters set to become free agents are defensive tackle Randy Starks, safety Chris Clemons and cornerback Sean Smith.
Which of those players are in the future plans for the defense? That's for another day.
The value of moral victories is always debatable and often a case-by-case topic, but no matter what way you look at it, the future is bright for the Dolphins.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.