Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: C-
The Bills didn’t establish much of a ground attack when the game was close and then fell into that familiar mode of passing to catch up when the second half began. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined for 53 rushing yards and a 3.5-yard average. They ran a grand total of five times in the second half. The best play of the day was a 35-yard Wildcat run by Brad Smith.
PASSING GAME: D
Ryan Fitzpatrick was irrelevant to Buffalo’s cause. He went 16 of 26 for 126 yards and no touchdowns and floated a pass into the wind for an interception on the goal line in the third quarter when the Bills could have cut the lead to 24-10. Tight end Scott Chandler lost a fumble right before halftime. The 49ers converted the turnover into a deflating touchdown one play later.
RUN DEFENSE: F
No matter who ran the ball for San Francisco, Buffalo couldn’t stop him. Two quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, combined for 88 yards on just seven carries. San Francisco rolled up 311 rushing yards, averaged 8.2 yards a carry and ran for three touchdowns. Buffalo’s defense looked totally flummoxed.
PASS DEFENSE: F
I gave the Bills’ pass defense a “D” last week, when they got mutilated by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The generosity stemmed from two forced fumbles on pass plays and a touchdown-eliminating hit on Rob Gronkowski. The Bills didn’t make any of those plays Sunday against the Niners. Smith played like Brady on PCP. Receivers ran freely with large cushions of space around them. It was obnoxious.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Leodis McKelvin tried his darnedest to be a game-breaker. After the Niners’ first possession, he returned the punt 80 yards for a touchdown that was negated by a Jairus Byrd hold. The next time McKelvin touched the ball, he returned a kickoff 59 yards. Rookie punter Shawn Powell was hit or miss. He sent a directional attempt 24 yards to the Niners’ 13-yard line, but then drove one 58 yards to the 3-yard line.
Chan Gailey said a week ago his team wasn’t “mentally tough.” Time to bring in Deepak Chopra to be defensive coordinator. Dave Wannstedt’s game plan was ravaged again. The Bills looked pathetic, allowing 621 yards a week after the New England Patriots amassed 580 yards. For the first time in NFL history, a team had a 300-yard passer and 300 yards rushing. The offensive strategy was almost as flaccid.
Grading the 49ers
RUNNING GAME: A+
The 49ers didn’t need to run the ball much because their passing game lit up the Bills plenty. But once the game got out of hand, the 49ers pounded the ball with such dominance that they deserve no lower grade than perfection. The 49ers slobberknocked the Bills’ defense with 228 rushing yards in the second half. Frank Gore ran 14 times for 106 yards and a touchdown.
PASSING GAME: A+
Smith was phenomenal, which is a lot like saying Mark Sanchez was phenomenal against the Bills on opening day. It just doesn’t seem right. But he threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. He threw deep strikes at will. He entered the game with zero pass plays of 30 yards or longer. He had three of them against the Bills. His touchdown tosses were for 43, 28 and 10 yards.
RUN DEFENSE: B
San Francisco wasn’t tested enough on the ground for a superlative grade. Buffalo running backs — this is supposed to be a team strength — had only 17 attempts. San Francisco pursued the ball with vigor and didn’t give Jackson or Spiller too much room to navigate. Buffalo’s biggest play of the afternoon was a 35-yard Brad Smith sweep out of the Wildcat, with Fitzpatrick blocking way downfield.
PASS DEFENSE: A-
Buffalo couldn’t generate any momentum in the pass game. San Francisco knew Buffalo had to throw in the second half and contained well. In the second half, Fitzpatrick completed six of his 10 throws for 37 yards and an interception. San Francisco recorded a sack and three quarterback hits and didn’t allow much yardage after the catch. Stevie Johnson was targeted 10 times, but caught only six balls for 39 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
San Francisco gave up a big McKelvin return, but then David Akers didn’t let him touch the ball again, crushing six touchbacks with the help of a strong wind. Punter Andy Lee averaged 56 yards on two punts. Ted Ginn on punt returns and Kyle Williams on kickoff returns were OK.
Jim Harbaugh called a near-flawless game, guiding San Francisco to a second straight victory over an AFC East team with a combined score of 79-3. Every unit played fabulously well. The only area of concern was a bunch of penalties, some of which negated big plays. San Francisco was flagged seven times for 53 yards, and three of those calls wiped out gains of 21, 41 and 14 yards.