The Bills had their chances, but squandered several in what was a tight game despite a lot of sloppy play by Buffalo. Two missed field goals and poor execution in the red zone on offense played the largest role in lifting San Francisco to a surprising 10-3 victory in Orchard Park.
The loss dealt a potential death blow to Buffalo's playoff hopes as they slipped to 6-6 on the season. It was the first win by a west coast team in the eastern time zone in 15 such matchups this season.
Buffalo cracked San Francisco's red zone four times and came away with just three points. A missed 22-yard field goal, a turnover on downs at the 49ers seven-yard line, a chip shot field goal and a missed 40-yard attempt were all the Bills had to show for a forgettable day in a game that Dick Jauron's squad had to have.
"I think it's pretty clear that the story of this game was the red zone," said Jauron. "We did not convert, we just didn't convert. If we had we would have given ourselves a real good opportunity to win a football game, but that wasn't the case."
Buffalo outgained San Francisco by 150 net yards, but wasted timeouts, dropped passes, inaccurate throws, penalties and bad decisions were all factors in an ugly offensive performance.
The second half proved to have a surprise in store for fans as J.P. Losman took the field for the Bills at quarterback as the second half began. Trent Edwards was unable to come back out due to a groin injury.
"It started bothering me at the start of the game," said Edwards. "I was trying to work through it the first couple of series. I was getting knocked down a couple of times and trying to get back up and work through it. It was aggravating it a little bit more through the course of the game. Then at the end of the first half I was talking to the trainers and we made the call to just shut it down."
Edwards finished the day throwing for just 112 yards on 10-21 passing.
But not much changed with respect to effectiveness on that side of the ball.
Lynch was the lone bright spot for Buffalo with 134 yards rushing, but he surprisingly had just 16 carries in what was a one-score game for most of the afternoon.
"I think our line did a great job of blocking and springing Marshawn Lynch for some long runs," said Lee Evans. "We just didn't have any balance in the red zone and it cost us."
The Bills last best chance came on a 4th-and-2 at the Niners seven-yard line with 10 minutes left in the game, but J.P. Losman was pressured and threw an incomplete pass for a turnover on downs. Losman was 11-17 for 93 yards and was sacked three times in his relief appearance.
"I felt pretty comfortable," said Losman. "I think the guys were excited, everybody was pumped and ready to go. There are no excuses."
With seven minutes left Buffalo's defense got the ball back after sending San Francisco four-and-out. The Bills offense moved into the red zone again, but when Losman was sacked for a three-yard loss on 3rd-and-4 at the Niners 19 the Bills brought the kicking team out for a 40-yard attempt.
But that too proved unsuccessful as Lindell hit his second field goal attempt off the left upright in the game to keep the Bills a touchdown behind.
"I stunk," said Lindell. "I don't know what to tell you."
Early in the third quarter the Bills put themselves in a first-and-goal situation thanks to a 50-yard run by Marshawn Lynch on the first play of the series. But again punching it into the end zone proved difficult.
Buffalo wound up settling for a 22-yard field goal from Lindell to draw within a touchdown with 8:54 left in the third quarter (10-3). It was as close as they would get the rest of the day.
The Bills were fortunate to escape the first half down only 10 as they lacked consistency and did not play smart football.
San Francisco's only touchdown came on a methodical 14-play drive to start the game relying on a steady diet of Frank Gore. Shaun Hill mixed in three big third down conversion passes to Bryant Johnson, Jason Hill and Isaac Bruce to keep the chains moving. Hill ultimately delivered a 12-yard strike to Bruce for the first touchdown of the game and a 7-0 lead with 6:51 lead as Bruce got separation on Leodis McKelvin.
Buffalo responded with a lengthy drive of their own covering 17 plays and 85 yards, but the drive stalled on the two-yard line. Trent Edwards' second-and-goal pass attempt was tipped and fell incomplete and he threw another incomplete pass out of the back of the end zone in third down when he was pressured.
"Third down was a called run and if they bring pressure, which they did it was a chance for me to roll to the right and try to hit a flat to Josh (Reed) and Lee (Evans) working the back of the end zone," said Edwards. "They showed blitz and then they didn't really show us the blitz. They dropped back into coverage and that was the reason we had to throw the ball away."
It looked like Buffalo would simply have to settle for three points on a chip shot 19-yard attempt by Rian Lindell, but he hooked it and clanged off the left upright to keep the Bills off the scoreboard.
Buffalo's offense struggled from there as they punted and lost possession on a fumble, which led to a 50-yard Joe Nedney field goal for San Francisco (10-0) before the clock ended a sloppy first half of play.
Now at 6-6 there is no wiggle room for the Bills concerning their AFC playoff hopes and there's a chance that they will be on the outside of the postseason picture even if they win all four of their remaining games and finish 10-6.
"It was a game that we felt was a pivotal game," said Jauron. "We're going into the last quarter of our season. We would have loved to have gone in on an up note. We're going in on a down note."
The Bills will host Miami in Toronto on Dec. 7 for a 4pm kickoff. The Dolphins improved to 7-5 to pull a game ahead of Buffalo in the AFC East.