No. 1, here they come

The 49ers' long, downward spiral to the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft reached its destination Sunday with another one-sided catastrophe that fully illuminated several of the elements that got them there.

The last image San Francisco's home fans will have of this historically dismal 49ers season will be the worst one. On Fan Appreciation Day at Monster Park, a dreary and dismally cold afternoon that saw the stadium only half-filled for the opening kickoff, the Buffalo Bills whipped the Niners in every which way while delivering yet another heavy dose of humiliation to a season that already has seen way too much of that.

The final was Buffalo 41, San Francisco 7, but it actually was much worse than that. The Bills were running gadget plays by early in the third quarter and liberally sending in reserves shortly thereafter. The 49ers, meanwhile, ended the game with their third-string quarterback and No. 5 receiver figuring prominently in their offense.

It all led to predictable results. The Niners struggled to move the ball on offense, couldn't control the ball or clock, committed four turnovers, and couldn't stop the Bills from making play after play.

This was a mercy killing without the mercy.

"You might want to feel sorry for them," Buffalo safety Lawyer Milloy said. "But in this business you can't."

The only consolation the 49ers could get out of falling to 2-13 with their worst home loss since 1967 – and worst loss ever in the stadium originally named Candlestick Park - is that they now are guaranteed their pick of any college player in the land next year.

As if that's any consolation.

"Basically, it just seems like a bad dream," 49ers fullback Fred Beasley said after Buffalo finished with dominating edges in total yards (441-189) and first downs (27-12) while controlling the ball for almost 35 minutes. "And once this season is finally done, we all go home and wake up like it never happened and prepare for next year."

The bad dream's not over yet. The Niners travel to New England next week for their season finale against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots, a team that already has beaten Buffalo twice. The Niners must win that game to avoid matching the worst record in franchise history.

Don't count on it.

The 49ers, with more key players dropping by the wayside as the game progressed, simply were worn down and then smashed into the ground by a superior opponent. San Francisco gamely matched blows with the Bills during a scoreless first quarter, but it was only a matter of time before Buffalo began pummeling the Niners on both sides of the ball.

"They physically got after us in all aspects of it," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "It is what it is. They're an awfully good football team. Of all the teams we've played, they're probably the most physical. They physically beat us as well as has happened to us this year."

The 49ers produced 61 yards on their first two offensive series, pushing into Buffalo territory on the second possession. But on San Francisco's next eight drives, the Niners produced just 36 net yards and two first downs as the Bills pushed them backward while running off toward another lopsided victory.

Buffalo also took away the ball three times during that span, turning a scoreless tie into a 41-0 blowout early in the fourth quarter.

The Buffalo defense harassed Niners starting quarterback Ken Dorsey, forcing a fumble on a sack late in the second quarter and then intercepting him on San Francisco's first drive after halftime. On that play, Dorsey suffered a laceration on the middle finger of his throwing hand, forcing him out of the game and bringing in rookie Cody Pickett for his first NFL snaps.

Pickett, to nobody's surprise, struggled early before gaining some steam against Buffalo reserves late in the game and leading San Francisco to a fourth-quarter touchdown that averted the shutout. Pickett threw 10 passes – completing four of them to teammates and two to the Bills for interceptions, the second of which set up Buffalo's final touchdown – to finish with a miniscule quarterback rating of 18.8. Dorsey – who completed five of 10 passes, just one of them to the Bills – had a rating of 26.7.

"When we get behind, and we have to drop back and throw it, we have problems," Erickson said.

The Bills had no such problems. After their opening 12-play drive stalled at the San Francisco 44, the Bills scored on four consecutive possessions and five of their next six. Then, after losing a fumble on their ensuing drive, the Bills scored touchdowns the next two times they had the ball before calling off the dogs.

It didn't seem to matter what the Bills tried, whether it was the passing of quarterback Drew Bledsoe (21 of 32 for 172 yards passing), the rushing of Willis McGahee (102 yards and two TDs on 15 carries) or rookie Shaud Williams (93 yards and one TD on 17 carries) or the big-play receiving of rookie Lee Evans (eight receptions for 92 yards and two TDs) and Eric Moulds (8 for 81).

"It was just another example of a good football team," Bledsoe said.

And the latest, greatest example that is something the 49ers most definitely aren't.

"It was a tough day. We could do no right today," Niners defensive tackle Bryant Young said. "We picked the wrong day to come out and play the way we did."

Young, the 11th-year veteran who is the longest-tenured player on the 49ers roster, was the last player to leave the San Francisco locker room Sunday. As he sifted through the damage long after the carnage had been completed, he had a message for those who had left before him.

"Let this be a learning lesson for all the guys that are going through this, that this is somewhere that you don't want to come back to," Young said. "So there's (our) motivation to go forward. Those guys understand what this feels like now."

And it feels about as bad as it looks.


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