The 49ers entered Sunday’s game with a new starting quarterback in search of big play opportunities.
Instead, they found themselves, yet again, on the receiving end of an opponent’s offensive explosion.
A battered San Francisco defense was unable to stop an explosive LeSean McCoy Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, en route to a 45-16 trouncing by the Bills.
Colin Kaepernick gave Kelly exactly what he was looking for in the form of a 53-yard touchdown to WR Torrey Smith in the first quarter, showing off the arm strength and big-play ability that landed him the job over former starter Blaine Gabbert.
But that’s where the highlights begin and end for San Francisco, as McCoy wreaked havoc upon his former coach’s new squad, rushing for 140 yards on 19 carries while tying a career-high with three rushing touchdowns.
Absent a number of key figures on defense, San Francisco allowed a season-high 312 rushing yards, while coming up just one point short of tying their season-high in points allowed, with 45.
The void left by NaVorro Bowman up the middle was perhaps never greater, as McCoy had a field day while averaging 7.4 yards per carry. McCoy was able to oppose his will at ease, scoring while taking handoffs, pitches and direct snaps for his three scores.
Buffalo’s 312 yards rushing was the most by the team since 1992.
While Kaepernick’s box score may not signify it, the quarterback had himself an otherwise encouraging reappointment to the starting lineup. Kaepernick completed 13-of-29 passes for 187 yards and one touchdown, with most of his misses coming late in the game in obvious passing situations.
Kaepernick wasn’t spotless on the day though, losing a fumble and throwing a number of dangerous near-picks throughout the contest.
But the opportunity for the 49ers to keep a consistent and mixed offense was lost early in the second half with the 49ers defense being unable to stop the Bills’ offense.
The showing by Kaepernick may have been skewed by the 49ers’ need to play with a large deficit, but afterward, the normally-forward Kelly was still hesitant as to whether he would be given another shot to redeem the offense.
Kelly’s response was curt, but telling:
Questions regarding Kaepernick’s readiness to run the 49ers offense inevitably surfaced prior to Sunday’s game. A long absence from the playing field, a lengthy rehab resulting in a drop in physical stature and arm fatigue all clouded his ability to produce for Kelly’s offense on the road.
But the former starter shrugged off all those concerns, and looked to establish the one element that separated him from his conservative counterpart in Blaine Gabbert — the big play.
On the fifth snap of the game, Kaepernick unloaded a missile 41 yards down the field in search of Smith in the end zone. During his next trip, Kaepernick searched for a sprinting Shaun Draughn deep near the goal line.
The results of these early attempts may have been the same —open 49ers receivers were overthrown by their quarterback — but the aggressiveness of Kaepernick was in stark difference to that of Gabbert.
Unwilling to let off the gas, the 49ers received something that had eluded them all season long: A big connection between starting quarterback and their No. 1 wideout.
On his third drive of the game, Kaepernick lofted a booming 53-yard touchdown to wide receiver Torrey Smith, who took off unhindered into the Buffalo end zone.
Kaepernick continued his solid play, leading the 49ers to scores on three out of their four first half attempts, with Phil Dawson adding two more field goals to the mix.
But as San Francisco’s passing game took off under Kaepernick, McCoy and the Buffalo Bills were content to keep their attack on the ground. Much to the dismay of Jim O’Neil’s battered defense.
Led by McCoy — traded to Buffalo by Philadelphia after clashing with Kelly after the 2014 season — the Bills offense ran unscathed through the 49ers defensive backfield for more than 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the first half.
McCoy’s would again torch the 49ers near the start of the fourth quarter, breaking through multiple white jerseys for his second score from more than 12-yards out on the day.
While McCoy may have been the star of Sunday’s show, his shifty teammate in Taylor did his part to tack on to the 49ers’ defensive woes as well.
After keeping various Buffalo drives alive for McCoy in the first half, Taylor looked to step out of McCoy’s shadow later in the game and assert himself upon the game’s scoring as well.
In the third quarter, Taylor got himself on the scoreboard with a deep pass to the newly-acquired Justin Hunter, hooking up for a 30 yard score while marking Buffalo’s first score of the game to someone not named McCoy.
With the 49ers defense continuing to stumble, Taylor plunged the dagger in the 49ers coffin with his second touchdown of the game, finding Robert Woods for a five-yard score to give Buffalo a commanding 22-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Even with Buffalo content to ease their onslaught of the 49ers by pulling McCoy and Taylor from the game, San Francisco’s defense still found ways to collapse, allowing one final explosive rushing touchdown after backup Mike Gillislee took off for the day’s biggest play in a 44-yard touchdown rush.