Published October 04, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO – NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis will harass the quarterback. The defense will probably force a turnover. Frank Gore will run for around 100 yards and Alex Smith will protect the ball.
Everybody pretty much knows what to expect from the San Francisco 49ers by now.
That's hardly the case with the Buffalo Bills.
Piling up points one minute, handing them out the next, what Bills (2-2) team travels to the West Coast to face the 49ers (3-1) on Sunday is anybody's guess. After allowing 45 second-half points in an embarrassing 52-28 home loss to New England last week, the only certainty is that Buffalo better bring its better half.
San Francisco returns to Candlestick Park following a 34-0 dismantling of the New York Jets that finished off a two-week stay on the East Coast in style.
"You can't let things affect you that you don't have control over. We have no control over what's happened up to this point. It happened. It's there," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "Now what are we going to do from here? How strong can you be from here on?"
Buffalo has yet to find the answers.
All the good feelings from two straight wins fizzled in about 22 minutes against New England last week, when the Bills gave up six touchdowns, a field goal and 580 yards. They became the second team in NFL history to allow two players with 100 yards receiving — Wes Welker (129) and Rob Gronkowski (106) — and two with 100 yards rushing — Brandon Bolden (137) and Stevan Ridley (106).
Suddenly, problems are popping up all over the place for a team that entered training camp believing it had the pieces in place to end a 12-season playoff drought.
Mario Williams has a sprained left wrist and just 1 ½ sacks, 11 tackles and a fumble recovery after leaving Houston to sign a six-year, $100 million contract that made him the NFL's most expensive defensive player. Ryan Fitzpatrick leads the NFL with 12 touchdown passes but is also tied for second-worst with seven interceptions. And running backs C.J. Spiller (shoulder) and Fred Jackson (knee) are still slowed by injuries.
Buffalo, which snapped an eight-game road losing streak with a Week 3 win at Cleveland, starts a string of four of its next five on the road. The Bills will practice in Arizona next week to get ready for the Cardinals instead of traveling back East, similar to what the 49ers just did staying in Ohio between games at Minnesota and New York.
"This is a stretch of games here," Fitzpatrick said, "that we are really going to figure out what kind of team this is."
San Francisco seemed to rediscover its identity in the Big Apple.
A dominating defense kept the Jets out of the red zone all day and a ball-controlling offense ran for 245 yards. The romp reaffirmed the 49ers as one of the NFL's elite, erasing memories of that 24-13 loss at Minnesota in Week 3 that is suddenly looking like an aberration.
About the only thing the Niners need to guard against is another letdown.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh even talked for the first time this season about the fictional character he invented last October named Freddie P. Soft, a novel nemesis who tries to sneak into team headquarters and disrupt preparation by filling his players' ears with motivation-sapping praise. Harbaugh joked that players noticed Soft "might be lurking" at a practice a few weeks ago and it's no longer something he needs to address.
Instead, the only outside presence in the 49ers locker room this week was Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays of the Giants to give a pep talk.
"The message is, 'We've attained humility,'" Harbaugh said. "I couldn't really say when that is for each person. Personally, it was a long time ago. But that carries with it no loss of true pride. Nobody's walking around here like we're the greatest thing since sliced bread."
If the 49ers to wants to hit their stride, now appears to be the most opportunistic time.
San Francisco starts a stretch of three straight and five of six games at home against Buffalo. The 49ers have dropped only two games at Candlestick under Harbaugh — a loss to Dallas last September and in the NFC championship to the New York Giants in January, both in overtime — in the last two years.
"There's no place like home," Willis said. "We just love the feeling now at home as opposed to what it used to feel like. That makes it that much better."
The 49ers showed some new wrinkles against the Jets by expanding backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick's role in the wildcat offense, and another addition could be on the way.
Brandon Jacobs, who has declared himself healthy enough to play, practiced with a brace around his left knee this week. The big, burly former Giants running back has been sidelined since the preseason and could give the 49ers help in short-yardage situations and ease the burden on Smith to throw in the red zone.
As always, though, everything San Francisco does is based around its defense.
The 49ers are third best in yards allowed (277.2) per game, fourth best in points allowed (16.2) and seventh best in turnover differential (plus-4). In contrast, the Bills rank 27th in yards allowed (406.5), 30th in points allowed (32.8) and 22nd in turnover differential (minus-3), adding to the perception that this is the same flawed team of recent seasons.
"We haven't done anything to prove otherwise," Fitzpatrick said. "We came out of the gates and struggled versus the Jets and then the Patriots. In order to change that perception, we've got to go out there and win games."
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., contributed to this story.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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