Bills shock penalty-prone 49ers
S.F. suffers 22 infractions in 26-21 loss
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Steve Young and San Francisco's offense were finally contained -- by the most unlikely opponent, the lowly Buffalo Bills.
Rob Johnson overshadowed his counterpart, completing 19 of 27 passes for 254 yards and one touchdown as the Bills built a big lead, then held on for a 26-21 victory Sunday over the suddenly mistake-prone 49ers.
San Francisco (3-1) entered the game ranked first in the NFL in rushing, passing and total offense but was held to just 56 yards passing and 105 total yards in the first half, when they turned the ball over three times.
The 49ers looked poised for a miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter, when they scored all their points.
They recovered an onside kick after Young's 21-yard TD pass to J.J. Stokes pulled them within five points with 1:03 left. But they were called for offsides -- tying an NFL record for penalties with 22 in the game -- and the Bills recovered the second onside attempt.
Three turnovers in the first half and all those penalties, Young said. That first half is almost like you want to just go back out and call a do-over. Even the onside kick, one last gasp to win it, we were offsides. It just wasn't meant to be.
The Bills entered the contest with just one victory in their last 10 games, worst in the league over that span, but they dominated the 49ers from the beginning.
Everyone counted us out from the start, Bruce Smith said. There were many doubters and that's all right. In life you're going to have people that don't respect you. But San Francisco is a good football team, a great football team. They're the best offensive team in the league right now.
The Bills (1-3) wasted no time in taking advantage of San Francisco's secondary, which was without Marquez Pope. They came out picking on cornerbacks Darnell Walker and Antonio Langham, who struggled against Buffalo's passing attack even though it was missing its top receiver, Andre Reed.
Johnson found Eric Moulds for a 50-yard reception on the game's first play and Buffalo took a 3-0 lead on Steve Christie's 24-yard field goal 2:30 into the game.
Johnson had 164 yards passing in the first half, 87 of them to Reed's replacement, Kevin Williams.
Garrison Hearst's fumble late in the first quarter gave Buffalo the ball on the 49ers 30 yard-line and Antowain Smith's 6-yard scoring run made it 10-0.
Another San Francisco miscue, a fumble by kickoff returner R.W. McQuarters, put the Bills in San Francisco territory again. Johnson took advantage by tossing a 5-yard TD to Quinn Early for a 17-0 lead.
After getting down to the 49ers 1-yard line on their final possession of the first half, the Bills had to settle for Christie's 19-yard field goal with three seconds left for a 20-0 halftime lead.
San Francisco had 12 first-half penalties and tied the NFL record with 22 penalties for 178 yards. Brooklyn and the Chicago Bears had 22 penalties in separate games in 1944.
It's unbelievable to have that many penalties in a game, said Buffalo coach Wade Phillips, who got his first win as the Bills head coach. I thought our guys played tremendous and our defense was all over the field making plays.
After Christie's third field goal of the game made it 23-0, Young finally got San Francisco on the board at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
A 33-yard reception by Jerry Rice set up a 47-yard touchdown pass to fullback Marc Edwards. Young connected with Rice on a 2-point conversion, cutting the deficit to 23-8.
Irv Smith's 9-yard touchdown reception from Young made it 26-14, but San Francisco failed on the 2-point conversion. Young's TD pass to Stokes ended the 49ers' scoring.
Young finished 22-of-38 for 329 yards, his fourth straight game with more than 300 yards passing.