Instant Replay: Defense bullied by Bills, 49ers lose fifth straight

Instant Replay: Defense bullied by Bills, 49ers lose fifth straight


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Colin Kaepernick’s return to the 49ers’ starting lineup for the first time in nearly a year seemingly helped provide the team’s offense with immediate benefits in the first half.

But there were still no answers – in either half - for the team’s leaky defense and horrendous tackling.

Despite a number of changes, including Kaepernick taking over for the struggling Blaine Gabbert, it was the same story for the 49ers on Sunday. The Buffalo Bills pulled away in the second half for a 45-16 victory to run their win streak to four games.

It was the fifth consecutive loss for the 49ers, who fall to 1-5 after opening the season with a 28-0 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

Kaepernick made his first start since Nov. 1, 2016, after which Gabbert replaced him as the starter. Gabbert started the 49ers’ final eight games of 2015 and the first five games of this season before his ineffective play prompted coach Chip Kelly to make the switch.

Generally, Kaepernick appeared to give the 49ers’ offense a better chance – at least in the first half. While Kaepernick had a solid first 30 minutes, the team’s problems on defense were apparent from beginning to end.

Kaepernick found a wide-open Torrey Smith for a 53-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter that gave the 49ers a short-lived 10-7 lead. Kaepernick’s pass was underthrown, but Smith was able to adjust to make the catch. Smith reversed course across the field to make it into the end zone untouched.

It was Kaepernick’s first touchdown pass since hitting Quinton Patton on a 21-yard pass on Oct. 18 of last season in the 49ers’ 25-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

But Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense stalled in the second half. Kaepernick completed 13 of 29 passes for 187 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for 66 yards on eight attempts.

Meanwhile, Bills running back LeSean McCoy had success throughout the game against the 49ers’ overmatched defense that rarely had a play without at least one missed tackle.

Since holding the Rams’ Todd Gurley to 47 yards rushing in the opener, the 49ers have not gone a game without surrendering 100 yards to an opponent on the ground.

Fozzy Whitaker (Carolina), Christine Michael (Seattle), Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas) and David Johnson (Arizona) tore through the 49ers’ defense for 100-yard games in the previous four games.

McCoy was outspoken in his criticism of Kelly after the then-Philadelphia Eagles coach traded his star running back to Buffalo. McCoy made his former coach pay on Sunday.

McCoy went over the 100-yard mark by halftime and his two rushing touchdowns accounted for the Bills’ 17-14 lead at the intermission.

McCoy left the game at the end of the second quarter with an apparent knee injury. He returned in the third quarter and finished with 140 yards and three touchdowns on 19 rushing attempts.

The Bills took a 24-13 lead at the end of three quarters on quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter, who got behind 49ers safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea.

Taylor completed 17 of 26 pass attempts for 179 yards and two touchdowns.

Injury report: Rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson was diagnosed Sunday with a concussion after leaving the game in the third quarter, the 49ers announced.

Robinson made his third consecutive start on Sunday against the Bills in place of Jimmie Ward, who has been out with a right quadriceps strain. Robinson enters the NFL’s concussion protocol, which he must pass in order to be eligible to play next Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With Robinson out of action, Keith Reaser took over at cornerback. Dontae Johnson came into the game as the team’s third cornerback with Reaser moving inside to cover the slot receiver.

Also, the 49ers announced running back Carlos Hyde was questionable to return to action with a shoulder injury in the third quarter. Hyde returned to action after missing just one series.

Lineup changes: Kaepernick moving into the starting lineup was not the only change the 49ers made on Sunday. Rookie Joshua Garnett took over at right guard in place of Andrew Tiller, who started the first five games of the season. Garnett was the 49ers’ pick at No. 28 overall, as the team traded into the back end of the first round to select him.

The 49ers also made a change on defense, removing Mike Purcell from the starting lineup at nose tackle. Quinton Dial took over at nose tackle, with Arik Armstead at left defensive tackle and DeForest Buckner on the right side. When Dial needed a breather in the first quarter, veteran Glenn Dorsey went into the game at nose tackle.

The 49ers’ two most recent top draft picks combined for a turnover. Armstead was credited with a forced fumble on Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Buckner recovered the fumble. The takeaway led to the 49ers’ first points of the game, a 33-yard field goal from Phil Dawson in the middle of the first quarter. Buckner recorded two sacks, while Armstead had one.

This ‘n’ that
--Dawson also made field goals from 48 and 47 yards.

--One change to the 49ers depth chart was enacted at tight end. Je’Ron Hamm took over as the 49ers’ No. 3 tight end in place of Blake Bell, who was declared inactive.

--Two 49ers players were inactive due to injuries – both quadriceps injuries. Safety Jaquiski Tartt and cornerback Jimmie Ward were inactive for the game. Ward missed his third consecutive game. Robinson again started in his place.

--The 49ers had six wide receivers active for the game, including Keshawn Martin, whom the 49ers signed on Sept. 27. Martin made his 49ers debut on Sunday. Martin also handled kickoff returns and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter.

--Bills outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander beat 49ers left tackle Joe Staley for a 12-yard sack in the fourth quarter. It was Alexander’s league-leading eighth sack of the season.

Quinnen Williams, Josh Allen reflect on visits to meet with 49ers


Quinnen Williams, Josh Allen reflect on visits to meet with 49ers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – General manager John Lynch spent a portion of his pre-draft session with the media on Monday raving about Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.

On Wednesday, Williams returned the favor.

“They left a great impression on me, just to meet those guys out there,” said Williams, whom the 49ers hosted on a top-30 visit this month. “I met John Lynch. He’s a great guy.”

Williams is a legitimate option for the 49ers to consider with the No. 2 overall pick. Williams’ name has also come up in speculation over the past week that the Arizona Cardinals could select him with the top pick. Assuming the Arizona Cardinals take Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the top selection, the 49ers' pick would likely come down to Williams or Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa.

Williams was a first-year starter at nose tackle for Alabama, and he quickly shot up draft boards with a season in which he registered 19.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

“The season he had may have been as good of a college football season that I’ve ever seen,” Lynch said. “He was just dominant.”

As Williams began to talk about Lynch, he laughed about a highlight he saw of him during a TV show about Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. Lynch was a nine-time Pro Bowl player during his 15-year career with Tampa Bay and Denver.

“I saw him juke John Lynch,” Williams said of Sanders. “It was so funny because I know John Lynch now.”

If Williams were to end up with the 49ers, he would likely team up on the interior defensive line with DeForest Buckner. Williams said he met Buckner during his visit to Santa Clara. His takeaway: “He’s huge.”

Williams said he would relish the opportunity to play alongside one of the best defensive tackles in the game. Buckner was named to his first NFC Pro Bowl team after totaling a career-high 12 sacks.

“I’m not going to any franchise thinking I’m the man, thinking this or that,” Williams said. “I’m thinking that I’m coming to any franchise and I’m bringing a weapon that can help the team and push the pocket. This game has turned to a real passing game and me, as a defensive lineman, I’m a pass-rusher. I go get it. But I can also stop the run at an elite level.”

[RELATED: Quinnen Williams leans on family, football after great loss]

Another player the 49ers could consider with the No. 2 pick in the draft is Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen, who led the nation with 17 sacks last season as a senior. Allen mentioned the weather and the food as some of the highlights of his visit to meet with the 49ers in Santa Clara.

Allen came away feeling good about the possibility of playing for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. Allen said the 49ers told him he would play defensive end in their defensive scheme.

“My hand would be in the dirt, rushing the passer and setting the edge,” he said.

NFL draft: 49ers GM John Lynch on how he's learned from past mistakes

NFL draft: 49ers GM John Lynch on how he's learned from past mistakes

As 49ers GM John Lynch and his staff head into their third draft, Lynch admits that they are using lessons learned from Reuben Foster and Joe Williams to help prevent the same draft mishaps from happening again. 

Lynch has spoken about needing to be aggressive in taking players that will improve the franchise while taking into account a solid locker room environment. A few of Lynch's picks have backfired, but he says the team has learned from their mistakes. He spoke about how his past two seasons have been a learning process, while also admitting that sometimes you still have to take risks. 

“I think a combination of both,” Lynch said. “If you aren’t always learning, shame on you, shame on us. I think with Reuben, I think we somewhat accounted for it by where we drafted him. I think we had him at a certain value. We didn’t draft him there. That doesn’t excuse us. It’s a shame. 

“We’re very happy to have Kwon Alexander, but that came at a heavy price. We would’ve much preferred to have Reuben still playing here. So, of course, you learn a lesson.” 

The heavy price for the 49ers was Alexander’s five-year $54 million contract. Foster would have cost much less under his four-year rookie contract that was worth just over $9 million. 

Foster had a few red flags prior to the draft, including being sent home from the NFL Scouting Combine after a confrontation with a hospital worker and a diluted urine test. His troubles continued with assault allegations and other off-the-field issues. 

Lynch detailed the slight variations to their pre-draft vetting process that was made, in part, because of what they learned from Foster. 

“There are certain tweaks we’ve made,” Lynch said. “Our 30 visits this year, we brought people more in a group setting. We want to see how they interact with other people. So, those are subtle things that we do.”

Meanwhile, Williams spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve and then was released prior to the 2018 season. He was a player who had great game film, especially just before the draft when he ran for a record-setting 332 yards in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium. 

As with Foster, Williams had his share of red flags as well. He quit football after being at Utah for a season to deal with issues regarding family matters. He rejoined the team when they were in desperate need at running back. 

Since drafting Williams, Lynch has been very vocal about acquiring players who love the game of football, almost reminding himself to not forget the miss in his first draft. The positive side is that the team released Williams after his second offseason instead of holding out hope that he would develop and pan out.   

“As to Joe, I think that was a pick, it didn’t work out,” Lynch said. “But, in every scenario, whether something worked or didn’t work, you take note. We try to do that in each individual case.”
“There’s so much that just goes into the research of these players. You learn something every year. I think the most important thing, you impart upon your scouts, upon your staff is, ‘We have to be as thorough as humanly possible.’”

[RELATED: Final first-round NFL mock draft]

For a GM without front office experience, Lynch surrounded himself with experienced people. The past two 49ers draft classes have been far from perfect -- but that can be said about every draft class. Lynch just hopes to improve each season by learning from his past. 

“Anything we can learn about these guys is valuable information,” Lynch said. “I’m real proud of the work we’ve done with our staff to get as much information to be equipped to make as good a decision as possible.”
“You work hard to try to identify what is the lesson that you learned. We know in-house what those lessons are.”