There were a lot of bitten lips in the Miami Dolphins' hotel lobby this morning. Answers for a defensive debacle were hidden behind "I'm-not-the-coach" comments. Public second-guessing was off limits.

But, as they explained what happened in a 38-16 Super Bowl XIX loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it was clear the Killer Bs and Co. were not happy with themselves -- nor with their game plan.

"They just nickel-and-dimed us to death," said safety Mike Kozlowski, perhaps the most vocal critic of the defensive plan that gave up 537 yards. "(Joe Montana) never really threw the ball downfield. Every time he did, it was incomplete."

Montana's longest pass was 40 yards to running back Wendell Tyler, who swung out of the backfield and crossed over the middle. He completed eight passes to fullback Roger Craig, four to Tyler, and five to tight end Russ Francis. The wide receivers caught only six passes.

"Our guys are running man-to-man, their backs are turned, and (49er running backs) are catching the ball underneath them and running forever," Kozlowski said. "Any time that happens, you're beat.

"The stuff that shouldn't hurt you was killing us."

In the locker room immediately after the game Sunday, Kozlowski told reporters: "We didn't do anything (to adjust). We stayed man-to-man and, obviously, it didn't work."

Several Miami defenders confirmed this morning that no adjustments were made in the second half, except for the addition of a little more blitzing.

Miami stuck with its man-to-man defense for the entire game. It was more man-to-man coverage than the Dolphins usually play, said free safety Lyle Blackwood. Significantly more.

And it failed miserably. One of the lasting images of a Super Bowl void of turning points will be that of the Dolphins' linebackers -- particularly rookie Jay Brophy and second-year man Mark Brown -- with their backs turned, heading downfield away from the line following a San Francisco running back as Montana slipped down the sideline for 10 or 15 yards.

"You've got people running downfield covering their man, so you don't have any guys who can come up real quick," Blackwood said.

If it wasn't so sad for the Dolphins, it would have made a great slapstick comedy. Which way did they go?

The 49ers set numerous Super Bowl records on the Dolphins, including the 537 yards, 31 first downs, 16 first downs rushing and 21 points in one quarter. The 38 points tied a Super Bowl record.

Miami's defense may have been trying to do the impossible: rush and contain Montana, one of the game's best running quarterbacks, with a three-man line. Cover the backs with the linebackers. Cover the deep receivers one-on-one. And don't make a mistake.

The plan turned into a disaster.

"They marched up and down the field at will," Blackwood said. "It's very disappointing. At no time during the game did I feel we were in control at all. They just ran over us."

The magnitude of the situation dictated some benevolence.

"They were crossing the backs (on short pass routes) and running a lot of pick plays," Blackwood said, "and they ended up confusing some people."

Most confused were the linebackers, he indicated.

"They were supposed to be in certain areas, and somehow, they were confused by what they were supposed to do . . . We did not have good coverage on the running backs."

But he added quickly, "It wasn't them (the linebackers) all the time. I didn't break fast enough on the tight end once (on a catch by Francis)."

What would he have done differently?

"Maybe we could have run more zone (to keep Montana in view)," Blackwood offered, "but the way we were playing yesterday, I don't think it would have helped. It was just a real poor effort by the Dolphins."

Kozlowski thought a four-man rush might have helped.

"How do you stop him? The only way would be to rush four people and try to get some heat on him. Some adjustments should have been made. It was obvious we did not make them."

Bob Matheson, the linebackers coach, said the Dolphins plan to go over the films of this one with a "fine-tooth comb."

"Sometimes we'd make our coverage, and he scrambled," Matheson said. "Other times, we wouldn't make our coverage and he'd see the open guy."

It was a foot race the Dolphins lost. "It was pretty obvious their team speed was superior to ours," Matheson said.

As the Dolphins set their bags in the hotel lobby and waited for the bus to escape, a quiet acceptance of losing had settled in.

"There's a certain amount of disappointment," said quarterback Dan Marino as he walked to the bus for the airport. "Anybody would have that after losing a game.

"But it's something that you can't dwell on. We had a great year but we didn't have a chance to win the big one."

The Dolphins passed for 318 yards, but Mark Duper had only one reception for 11 yards. "Our offense just didn't play like it had all year," Duper said.

Offense, defense, even the special teams, where punter Reggie Roby turned human with a 39.3-yard average.

"It was built up to be the best Super Bowl ever," said linebacker A.J. Duhe, who was used sparingly. "It turned out to be another game where one team just dominated." Miami Greets Team Associated Press

MIAMI, Jan 21 -- The Miami Dolphins' chartered jet from San Francisco arrived tonight at 9:50 p.m. to the cheers of about 2,000 fans, who braved one of the coldest nights in South Florida history -- 41 degrees.

"I want to thank every one of you for coming out on such a cold evening," said Dolphins Coach Don Shula. "It means a lot to me personally and our football team to have the kind of support you give us."