ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Colin Kaepernick’s return to the 49ers’ starting lineup for the first time in nearly a year seemingly helped provide the team’s offense with immediate benefits in the first half.
But there were still no answers – in either half - for the team’s leaky defense and horrendous tackling.
Despite a number of changes, including Kaepernick taking over for the struggling Blaine Gabbert, it was the same story for the 49ers on Sunday. The Buffalo Bills pulled away in the second half for a 45-16 victory to run their win streak to four games.
It was the fifth consecutive loss for the 49ers, who fall to 1-5 after opening the season with a 28-0 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Kaepernick made his first start since Nov. 1, 2016, after which Gabbert replaced him as the starter. Gabbert started the 49ers’ final eight games of 2015 and the first five games of this season before his ineffective play prompted coach Chip Kelly to make the switch.
Generally, Kaepernick appeared to give the 49ers’ offense a better chance – at least in the first half. While Kaepernick had a solid first 30 minutes, the team’s problems on defense were apparent from beginning to end.
Kaepernick found a wide-open Torrey Smith for a 53-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter that gave the 49ers a short-lived 10-7 lead. Kaepernick’s pass was underthrown, but Smith was able to adjust to make the catch. Smith reversed course across the field to make it into the end zone untouched.
It was Kaepernick’s first touchdown pass since hitting Quinton Patton on a 21-yard pass on Oct. 18 of last season in the 49ers’ 25-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
But Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense stalled in the second half. Kaepernick completed 13 of 29 passes for 187 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for 66 yards on eight attempts.
Meanwhile, Bills running back LeSean McCoy had success throughout the game against the 49ers’ overmatched defense that rarely had a play without at least one missed tackle.
Since holding the Rams’ Todd Gurley to 47 yards rushing in the opener, the 49ers have not gone a game without surrendering 100 yards to an opponent on the ground.
Fozzy Whitaker (Carolina), Christine Michael (Seattle), Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas) and David Johnson (Arizona) tore through the 49ers’ defense for 100-yard games in the previous four games.
McCoy was outspoken in his criticism of Kelly after the then-Philadelphia Eagles coach traded his star running back to Buffalo. McCoy made his former coach pay on Sunday.
McCoy went over the 100-yard mark by halftime and his two rushing touchdowns accounted for the Bills’ 17-14 lead at the intermission.
McCoy left the game at the end of the second quarter with an apparent knee injury. He returned in the third quarter and finished with 140 yards and three touchdowns on 19 rushing attempts.
The Bills took a 24-13 lead at the end of three quarters on quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter, who got behind 49ers safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea.
Taylor completed 17 of 26 pass attempts for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Injury report: Rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson was diagnosed Sunday with a concussion after leaving the game in the third quarter, the 49ers announced.
Robinson made his third consecutive start on Sunday against the Bills in place of Jimmie Ward, who has been out with a right quadriceps strain. Robinson enters the NFL’s concussion protocol, which he must pass in order to be eligible to play next Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With Robinson out of action, Keith Reaser took over at cornerback. Dontae Johnson came into the game as the team’s third cornerback with Reaser moving inside to cover the slot receiver.
Also, the 49ers announced running back Carlos Hyde was questionable to return to action with a shoulder injury in the third quarter. Hyde returned to action after missing just one series.
Lineup changes: Kaepernick moving into the starting lineup was not the only change the 49ers made on Sunday. Rookie Joshua Garnett took over at right guard in place of Andrew Tiller, who started the first five games of the season. Garnett was the 49ers’ pick at No. 28 overall, as the team traded into the back end of the first round to select him.
The 49ers also made a change on defense, removing Mike Purcell from the starting lineup at nose tackle. Quinton Dial took over at nose tackle, with Arik Armstead at left defensive tackle and DeForest Buckner on the right side. When Dial needed a breather in the first quarter, veteran Glenn Dorsey went into the game at nose tackle.
The 49ers’ two most recent top draft picks combined for a turnover. Armstead was credited with a forced fumble on Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Buckner recovered the fumble. The takeaway led to the 49ers’ first points of the game, a 33-yard field goal from Phil Dawson in the middle of the first quarter. Buckner recorded two sacks, while Armstead had one.
This ‘n’ that
--Dawson also made field goals from 48 and 47 yards.
--One change to the 49ers depth chart was enacted at tight end. Je’Ron Hamm took over as the 49ers’ No. 3 tight end in place of Blake Bell, who was declared inactive.
--Two 49ers players were inactive due to injuries – both quadriceps injuries. Safety Jaquiski Tartt and cornerback Jimmie Ward were inactive for the game. Ward missed his third consecutive game. Robinson again started in his place.
--The 49ers had six wide receivers active for the game, including Keshawn Martin, whom the 49ers signed on Sept. 27. Martin made his 49ers debut on Sunday. Martin also handled kickoff returns and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter.
--Bills outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander beat 49ers left tackle Joe Staley for a 12-yard sack in the fourth quarter. It was Alexander’s league-leading eighth sack of the season.