Staying on track for a potential playoff berth, the Bills rolled up a 41-0 lead on the hapless and helpless 49ers before Kevan Barlow scored a meaningless touchdown with 6:19 remaining to break the shutout.
San Fran quarterbacks Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett were no match for the Buffalo defense, managing just 91 net passing yards, taking three sacks (including one which forced a fumble), and throwing three interceptions between them.
Meanwhile, with the game well in hand, Drew Bledsoe called it an afternoon early in the third quarter. Shane Matthews came in and threw a touchdown pass to Lee Evans – the rookie wideout’s second of the game – before giving way to J.P. Losman for the final few handoffs.
Willis McGahee rolled up 102 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries, and Shaud Williams chipped in another 93 yards and a touchdown as the Bills’ running game trampled the overmatched Niners for 441 total yards ...
The San Francisco defense never challenged Bledsoe, who finished 21-for-32 for 172 yards and a touchdown ...
Evans totaled 92 yards on eight catches; Eric Moulds also had a good day, with eight receptions for 81 yards ...
The Bills won their sixth straight game, and eighth in the last 10, to improve to 9-6. The victory set up a win-or-stay-home game against the Steelers in the final week of the season; unfortunately, we know how that turned out ...
San Francisco dropped to 2-13, on their way to earning the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.
LAST TIME IN BUFFALO: October 4, 1998 – Bills 26, 49ers 21
As Wade Phillips began his second month as head coach with an 0-3 record, the Rob Johnson/Doug Flutie dispute was already beginning to rear its ugly head, the Bills spent the bye week stewing about their come-from-ahead loss to the Rams, and some writers were comparing their start to the 2-14 disaster in 1984. Four of the team’s veterans – Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Henry Jones, and Andre Reed (who would miss this game with a dislocated shoulder) – decided the situation was serious enough to call a players-only meeting.
To add to their problems, the 49ers showed up in Orchard Park sporting a 3-0 record and the league’s top offense, led by superstars Steve Young and Jerry Rice and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Garrison Hearst. So when Thomas insisted the Bills would win this game, few people took him seriously.
So, naturally, the double-digit home underdogs jumped out to a 23-0 third-quarter lead on Antowain Smith’s 6-yard run, Johnson’s 5-yard pass to Quinn Early, and three Steve Christie field goals, then extended the margin to 26-8 before two late Young touchdown passes made the final score appear respectable. The team that talked about the importance of ball-control offense before the game dialed up a 50-yard bomb from Johnson to Eric Moulds on the first play from scrimmage. The base 4-3 defense they’d spent the offseason working on? Not this week. Switching back to the 3-4 appeared to confuse the 49ers, who were held to 65 yards on the ground – most of those on scrambles by Young – and counted six false starts among their franchise-record 22 penalties.
“A tremendous effort by the Bills defense,” the 49ers quarterback said after the game. “I thought they had some nice wrinkles and played a 3-4 defense all day. They beat us. They went out and beat us early, and made us make mistakes.”
And late in the game, when San Fran was trying to keep their comeback hopes alive with one last onside kick, who fell on the ball to secure a Buffalo win?
Future Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas, once more backing his words up with actions.
Young finished the game 23-of-38 for 329 yards and three touchdowns, but most of the yardage and all of the scores came in the Niners’ unsuccessful fourth-quarter comeback. He led the team in rushing with 34 yards on five carries, but also gave the ball to the Bills twice with a fumble and an interception.
The Bills throttled Hearst, who managed just 28 yards on 12 attempts and also lost a fumble.
Rice, the other half of San Fran’s great QB-WR duo, was held to three catches for 54 yards.
Johnson was coolly efficient in his first win as the Bills’ starting quarterback, completing 19 of 27 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. Unfortunately for him, a rib injury early in the next game would sideline him for several weeks, and by the time he was read to come back, Flutie had taken a firm grasp on the starting job.
55 combined rushing and receiving yards gave Thomas 15,656 for his career, moving him into sixth place on the all-time yards-from-scrimmage leaderboard past Henry Ellard (15,603).
The Bills, who improved to 1-3, would also win their next four games with Flutie at quarterback and finish the season 10-6. However, the infamous “Just give it to ‘em” loss in Foxboro dropped them into a tie with the Dolphins, who earned home-field advantage for the wild-card game via a six-point margin in “net division points,” and Buffalo’s postseason hopes would end with a 24-17 loss in Miami.