Buffalo Bills (6-5) vs San Francisco 49ers (3-8)
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 1PM EST
SB Nation's 49ers coverage: Niners Nation
The Buffalo Bills ended a four-game losing streak and revived their slim playoff chances with a 54-31 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend. This week, the Bills return home to face the San Francisco 49ers in another game the Bills should win. Take care of business, and the playoffs remain a possibility. Lose; well, you can kiss your season goodbye. It's really as simple as that.
What does Buffalo need to do to win? Just a few things...
START FAST: Not since their Week 7 victory over San Diego has Buffalo opened the scoring in a game. That means in five straight games, Bills opponents have drawn first blood, to the tune of 40 points in those five contests. That means the Bills, on average, are battling from an 8-0 deficit right out of the gate. They're 1-4 in those games. It's getting old. Start fast, Buffalo, and you immediately sap the energy out of a young 49ers team with nothing to lose.
KEEP ON RUNNING: Buffalo's two most consistent offensive players - running backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson - have combined to touch the ball 81 times over the past two games. That, folks, is ideal. The team's new-found commitment to getting these two involved has yielded 67 points in the past two games; if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Expect these two to push 40 touches combined.
USE YOUR WEAPONS: This goes beyond Lynch and Jackson, and it even goes beyond Buffalo's offensive unit. Simply put, Buffalo is an average team with a few potentially elite playmakers. Those playmakers need to be involved. Kurupt mentions Lee Evans every week; he makes this list. The team's two return men, Leodis McKelvin and Roscoe Parrish, make the list as well. This trio hasn't gotten a lot of opportunities in recent weeks, particularly Evans and Parrish. These guys are difference-makers. Get the ball in their hands, by any means necessary.
JUST TACKLE: This one's for you, Kawika Mitchell. The veteran linebacker was put in position by Buffalo's coaching staff to have the game of his life; instead, he missed several tackles, whiffed on a potential safety, and got burned for a long touchdown pass early in the game. It extends past Mitchell, obviously - Buffalo needs to tackle well every week - but the Niners have players who can make plays after contact, specifically Frank Gore. Those types of plays need to be severely limited.
GORE THE SETUP MAN: Buffalo's run defense has struggled in recent weeks, giving up plenty of big gainers on the ground. The 49ers are going to use Gore a lot this week; we should be resigned to the fact that he's going to get his yardage. Buffalo needs to stay disciplined when (if?) that happens, because if Gore's running well, you can bet Mike Martz will try to take advantage of it through deep passes. Stay disciplined, Buffalo, and you'll force Gore himself to beat you.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE: This one is basic to the DNA of any win in the NFL. The Bills were able to pile on 54 points in Kansas City because the Chiefs handed them the ball 5 times. They didn't give the Chiefs such pleasure, not even once. They lost four straight because they lost this battle. Seems simple enough to me.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: After starting the season 3-0 at home with wins over Seattle, Oakland and San Diego, the Bills have lost two straight to the Jets and Cleveland. Buffalo only has two more games at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season - this Niners game, as well as the season finale against the Patriots. Protect your home turf is a golden rule in the NFL, and it especially holds true against an inferior opponent.
SENSE OF URGENCY: Even in winning 54-31 on the road, Buffalo didn't look overly desperate last weekend. Perhaps that's a good thing - they're not panicking with their backs against the wall - but I'd like to see them playing for the playoffs, particularly in the early parts of games. This is game that the Bills have to win. They'd better play as if they're supremely aware of that fact.
This list is short, sweet and simple, and honestly, these keys shouldn't be overly difficult to fulfill. If the Bills start fast and score first, it'll make their lives easier. The Bills are favored, and rightfully so, but they still need to take care of business. Go get 'em, Buffalo. Your playoff hopes are at stake.