49ers Take Too Long to Shift Into High Gear

From Associated Press

San Francisco’s high-powered offense was finally contained on Sunday--by its own mistakes and the lowly Buffalo Bills.

The Bills built a 23-0 lead, then held on for a 26-21 victory over the out-of-sync 49ers, who had an NFL record-tying 22 penalties for 178 yards.

San Francisco (3-1) had more than 500 total yards in each of its first three games but had only 105 in a first half in which it fell behind 20-0, turned the ball over three times and had 12 penalties.


Still the 49ers looked poised for a miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter, when they scored all their points. They recovered their onside kick after Steve Young’s 21-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Stokes pulled them within five points with 1:03 left. But they were called for offsides and the Bills (1-3) recovered the second onside attempt.

“Three turnovers in the first half and all those penalties,” Young said. “That first-half is almost like you want to just go back out and call a do-over. Even the onside kick, one last gasp to win it, we were offsides. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

The Bills entered the game with only one victory in their last 10 games, worst in the NFL over that span, but they dominated the 49ers for the first three quarters.

“Everyone counted us out from the start,” Bruce Smith said. “There were many doubters and that’s all right. In life you’re going to have people that don’t respect you. But San Francisco is a good football team, a great football team. They’re the best offensive team in the league right now.”

The Bills wasted no time in taking advantage of the 49er secondary that was without Marquez Pope. They came out picking on cornerbacks Darnell Walker and Antonio Langham, who struggled even though the Bills were without their top receiver, Andre Reed.

Rob Johnson found Eric Moulds for a 50-yard completion on the game’s first play and Buffalo took a 3-0 lead on Steve Christie’s 24-yard field goal.

Johnson had 164 yards passing in the first half, 87 to Reed’s replacement, Kevin Williams. He would finish 19 for 27 for 254 yards.

Garrison Hearst’s fumble late in the first quarter gave Buffalo the ball on the 49er 30-yard line and four plays later, Antowain Smith had a six-yard touchdown run to make it 10-0.

Another San Francisco fumble, this one by kickoff returner R.W. McQuarters, put the Bills in 49er territory again. Johnson took advantage with five-yard touchdown pass to Quinn Early for a 17-0 lead.

After getting to the 49ers one-yard line on their final possession of the first half, the Bills had to settle for Christie’s 19-yard field goal with three seconds left for a 20-0 halftime lead.

After Christie’s third field goal made it 23-0, Young finally got San Francisco on the scoreboard at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

A 33-yard reception by Jerry Rice was followed by Young’s 47-yard touchdown pass to fullback Marc Edwards. Young passed to Rice for the two-point conversion.

Young’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Irv Smith was the second of the 49ers’ three fourth-quarter scores.

Young finished 22 for 38 for 329 yards, his fourth consecutive game with more than 300 yards passing. However Hearst, who was averaging 127 yards a game rushing, had only 28 yards in 12 carries.