Niners get defensive during shutdown of Bills

Mike Singletary was all smiles and hugs as the final seconds ticked away Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. And you just have to know why. The 49ers made a statement with their 10-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills, a game to make their interim head coach proud, a game that continued to show San Francisco's shift to a team that is playing within a defined new mold of operation.

A mold established by Singletary.

This was the way the legendary Chicago Bears teams on which Singletary played decades ago used to get it done – play efficiently on offense, play unyielding on defense and do what it takes to get a victory.

This is the way Singletary wants to get it done, and a low-scoring victory rarely has looked so good to the 49ers.

"We were supposed to win this game," said linebacker Takeo Spikes, who had nine tackles and forced a fumble. "You can write it up how you want to, you can say this or that, but we deserved this win and we went out and got it."

And so they did.

In improving to 4-8 with their second win in three games, the 49ers established the tone with a game-opening touchdown drive, then rode a bend-but-don't-break defense that limited the Bills to just a field goal on the four times the Buffalo offense journeyed inside the red zone.

Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell – who had made 53 consecutive field goals from 40 yards and within – had two kicks boink off the uprights to thwart Buffalo scoring opportunities as the Bills amassed 350 yards of offense but couldn't put points on the scoreboard.

"It was just one of those things that we knew coming in here it was going to come down to the defense," Singletary said. "It was going to come down to trying to keep them out of the end zone, particularly in the red zone defense."

The 49ers spent a lot of time this week working on their red-zone defensive preparation because Buffalo's offense has been one of the NFL's more effective attacks in those situations.

But the Bills came away empty this time. The same Buffalo team that scored 54 points last week against Kansas City was limited to only Lindell's 22-yard field goal midway through the third quarter. It was the fewest points allowed by the 49ers in their past 36 games.

Buffalo had a first-and-goal situation before that drive stalled at the San Francisco 4. At least the Bills got some points to show for it.

They didn't for two other drives deep into San Francisco territory.

The Bills had two drives of 15 plays or longer that produced zero points. The first drive, an 18-play, 85-yarder, ended when Lindell banked a 20-yard field goal attempt off the left upright. The second, a 15-play, 75-yarder, ended when backup quarterback J.P. Losman, pressured by end Ray McDonald, threw an incompletion on fourth-and-2 from the 49ers' 7 in the fourth quarter.

That preserved San Francisco's 10-3 halftime lead, and Lindell hit the left upright with a 40-yard attempt to end Buffalo's next possession after the Bills had started that drive with great field position at the San Francisco 25.

Given one final opportunity in the final minutes, the Bills couldn't get out of the shadow of their own end zone before Losman threw incomplete on fourth-and-15 from the Buffalo 19.

"Coach Singletary always talks to us about finishing," Spikes said. "And for us to go out on the field and say, ‘D, it's on us, it's on our backs' – we had that opportunity and we controlled this game. To be able to do what we're supposed to do, and do it on the road, that's big."

The 49ers were pretty good at starting, too, to become the NFL's first West Coast team to win a game in the Eastern Time Zone this season.

With Frank Gore (64 yards rushing on 22 carries, 23 yards receiving) carrying five consecutive times to begin the game, the 49ers methodically and efficiently drove down the field after taking the opening kickoff, converting on 4-of-4 third-down opportunities to keep the drive moving.

The game's lone touchdown came on a well-executed play during which veteran receiver Isaac Bruce sold Buffalo rookie cornerback Leodis McKelvin with an inside slant move, then cut back to the corner of the end zone, where quarterback Shaun Hill found him with a 12-yard strike for a 7-0 San Francisco lead.

With the way their defense would play the rest of the way, the 49ers would have all the points they needed.

"It was good we were able to go down and get a touchdown there because obviously after that the weather kind of changed, and it made things a little bit more difficult," said Hill, who was 14 of 23 for 161 yards passing and did not commit a turnover, though he fumbled twice.

Buffalo, which is more accustomed to thriving in the inclement conditions, was able to move the ball behind running back Marshawn Lynch's season-high 134 yards rushing, but he fumbled after being hit by linebacker Patrick Willis late in the second quarter with safety Mark Roman recovering at the Buffalo 41.

With 34 seconds remaining before halftime, the 49ers reached the Buffalo 32, and Joe Nedney boomed a 51-yard field goal to give San Francisco a 10-point advantage at the half.

The Bills never could recover, falling to 6-6 after starting 5-1 and seeing their playoff hopes take a serious hit. Buffalo was the first team the 49ers have beaten with a winning record this season.

"Right now, it's all about us being the best we can be," said Willis, who had a game-high 14 tackles to go along with his forced fumble. "If that means somebody else not making it to the playoffs, that's for them to worry about."

Said Niners cornerback Nate Clements, "We made a statement that we can compete, we come to play. We come to win. We're not just coming for a moral victory. We're coming to win games."

And on a cold, harsh day in upper New York, they did it by following the hard-nosed formula emphasized by their intense head coach.

"I'm really proud of the way the guys handled themselves and came through," Singletary said. "It's a tribute to them in terms of how hard they're working and how they stuck together. That's what it's all about. I think we're better than this, but today was good enough. I'll take this anytime."

Niners Digest Top Stories