ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – As anticipated, chants of “USA!” and choirs of boos rained down on 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick before kickoff on Sunday. But once the pre-game fanfare concluded, politics became secondary to football. It was certainly worth it, as Bills fans were treated to a 45-16 blowout of San Francisco – their fourth win in a row.
“The whole week leading up to it we knew we were the better team. We knew we should beat them like that,” Bills guard Richie Incognito said afterward. “But you know that is what the NFL is all about. On paper you may be the better team, but you have to line up and play … we handled our end of the business.”
Everyone was aware of numbers coming in. The Bills were the league’s third best rushing team in terms of yards per game, while the 49ers defense ranked 31st in the league in stopping the run. Both trends remained the same on Sunday.
LeSean McCoy racked up 106 yards rushing and two touchdowns before halftime, accounting for 42 percent of the Bills total first half yardage, but it nearly came at a devastating price.
With just 38 second left in the second quarter, Tyrod Taylor looked to McCoy on a check down pass and as the shifty running back turned to get up field his right knee buckled from underneath him. As he lay on his side in the fetal position, grabbing at his right knee, New Era Field fell silent. A season revived from the dead, suddenly felt on life support once again. It was a doomsday scenario for the Bills.
Even though the drive ended in a field goal that pushed the Bills out in front 17-13, the focus was on McCoy, who was on the sideline testing out the knee before heading into the locker room for halftime.
Order was restored at One Bills Dr. when he returned to the field, cleared to play for the second half, and picked up where he left off. The 28-year-old added 34 more yards and a third touchdown to his resume. Afterwards McCoy acknowledged that he got lucky.
“It was a weird play. I mean I was catching a pass and I was making a cut, well faking it and then going the other way,” McCoy explained. “I’m kind of, my knee was stuck in the turf and it shifted a little bit. You know, but it was fine. I mean it was a quick one. That could have been bad. God willing I’m fine.”
Rex Ryan admitted he wasn’t quite as calm as McCoy. “I think I had the same concerns and everything else that every single Buffalo Bills fan had,” the Bills head coach said. “So obviously we had to hold our breath, but he’s a tough and he bounced back.”
For the fourth straight game, Shady looked unstoppable. On 19 carries he racked up 140 yards and recorded those three aforementioned touchdowns. He averaged an astounding 7.4 yards per carry. It was the third time in his career that he scored three TDs in a game, and the fifth time in his career that he’s gone over 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games.
“I mean if you want to give any game balls out today, today you need to give it to the offensive line,” McCoy said, deflecting credit for his performance. “I mean they made my job real easy. I mean every once and a while a guy would miss a tackle here and there. Other than that they did great. It will show from tape and they’re on a roll. They’re on a big roll, so I’m just gonna ride that train.”
McCoy wasn’t the only one to have success running the ball against a feeble 49ers defense. Taylor added 68 yards, Mike Gillislee 60 and a garbage time touchdown, and even rookie Jonathan Williams joined the stampede with 21 yards. As a team the Bills piled up 305 yards on the ground, the fifth best rushing performance in franchise history and most in a single-game since they racked up 315 against Atlanta in 1992.
“I know it’s boring football, that’s what people say,” Ryan said of his team’s run heavy approach. “But we just want to win, whether that means we’re going to put it up 30 times a game or 40 times a game or just run the football. I prefer to run it, there’s not question about it.”
Even considering how easy it was to run the ball, Taylor still attempted 26 passes, completing 19 of them for 179 yards and two second half touchdowns. The first of those came on a perfectly placed ball to Justin Hunter late in the third quarter. Hunter, was lined up in the slot on the left side of the formation and at the snap ran right towards the left, backside pylon. Taylor stood in the pocket with confidence and floated a beautiful ball up to Hunter, who caught it in stride and toe-tapped along the end zone boundary for a TD. It was by far Taylor’s best of the day and it opened the flood gates for what ballooned into a 28-3 Bills run to end the game.
In two contests with Buffalo, Hunter has made two catches, both touchdowns.
“We were in Zebra personnel and got them trapped into base personnel, where the safety has to come down to cover one of our receivers and a linebacker has to go out on Clay,” Taylor said, describing the play. “We like those matchups and Justin did a good job of getting passed the safety and setting high angles.”
Taylor’s second touchdown pass came with 10:32 left in the fourth, after San Francisco fumbled away a kick return, then got flagged for pass interference, pushing the Bills to the five. Robert Woods would do the honors this time, as Buffalo essentially put the game, 38-16.
As inspiring as Kaepernick’s movement has been for many, his performance on the field, in his first start since Week 8 of last season, was far from comparable. The elusive QB had far more success running the ball – eight carries for 66 yards – than he did passing – 13-of-29, for 187 yards and a TD. If it wasn’t for a busted coverage on his lone touchdown pass, that left WR Torrey Smith so open he was able to catch a severely underthrown ball like a center fielder, his day would have looked even more forgettable.
Outside of that one blunder the Bills defense held it’s own, again. Sure there were moments of give, where Kaepernick made them pay for not getting to him on the blitz, but when they needed stops, they clamped down.
Like in the third quarter when Preston Brown flew up to stuff a run on fourth-and-one from the Bills 40, giving the ball back to the offense to spark that avalanche of scoring. And when Lorenzo Alexander re-claimed the NFL’s sack crown (8) with a strip-sack in the fourth quarter.
In the red zone, despite allowing their first, third-down conversion of the season – as if that would have held up for a 16-game season – the defense shut the door twice, holding the 49ers to field goals both times they crossed the 20. Buffalo’s offense meanwhile went four-for-four on their red zone opportunities.
For a while this game had to feel too close to comfort. At the half Buffalo only led by four, 17-14, and they started the second half with three consecutive punts, before that momentum shifting fourth down stop by the defense.
From there the offense found their rhythm, scoring touchdowns on each of their final four possessions of the game to douse any hope of a 49ers upset. Good teams will do that, put a team away when late. And in a game the Bills had no business losing they took care of business, improved to 3-0 against the NFC West this season.
For the first time since 2008, when they started 4-0 then finished the season 7-9, the Bills have won four in a row, but Ryan is refusing to over sell it.
“No,” Ryan said when asked if this win validates the Bills. “We just won four games. We gave up over 20 points against the Jets, that’s the only team that’s scored over 20 all year. I’m not sure. But we feel pretty good about where we are defensively and then offensively, obviously since the change has taken place we’re doing a great job. Like I said you’re seeing a football team.”
A fifth straight win would be something the Bills haven’t done since 2004 – the season their playoff hopes were derailed by a Week 17 loss to the Steelers. To get to five this year, they’ll have to beat division rival Miami and the league’s worst rushing defense in Week 7.
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