Didn't happen. The Bills opened in a dime alignment, with six defensive backs, the theory being that the 49ers are more dangerous through the air than on the ground. And to spice it up, Buffalo flopped All-Pro defensive end Bruce Smith, who'd had a huge game in the Bills' season-opening rout of the Los Angeles Rams, to the weak side, away from the tight end, and moved linebackers Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett into unexpected spots. This package of exotica lasted exactly one series as Young marched the Niners smartly down the field into three-point range, where Mike Cofer blew a 33-yarder.
So thereafter Buffalo played it honest—and still spent most of the afternoon watching 49er receivers break out of arm tackles or shrug off defenders or simply sprint away from the coverage, turning little crossing routes and hooks into 50-yard gainers. Sherrard, who missed the 1987, '88 and '89 seasons when he broke the same leg twice, did it. So did John Taylor, the regular split end, and even Odessa Turner, the fourth wideout and a Plan B pickup from the New York Giants, who scored his first touchdown in three years on a neatly executed pick play. "At times it was just awful to watch," Hull said. "We preach, Run after the catch, but I've never seen anyone do it like those guys."
But the Niner defense was having its problems too. The heat, officially announced as 75� but at least 15 degrees hotter on the field, and the Bills' no-huddle offense were having their effect. So was the Buffalo offensive scheme, which occasionally lined up tailback Thurman Thomas on the wing or in the slot.
The Bills got their first touchdown on a pass to Thomas on a corner route after he had lined up wide. On another score they put three wideouts on the field and Thomas in the slot, creating a four-receiver look, and then slipped Metzelaars into the clear on a crossing route through a vacated zone. And that was after the 6'7", 250-pound Metzelaars had broken a 53-yarder for a TD, the longest of his career, on a matchup that had him getting man coverage from 6'2", 206-pound free safety Dana Hall. He simply shrugged Hall off—"kind of like a tree blowing in the wind," Metzelaars said.
"They gave us weird formations," 49er linebacker Mike Walter said. "They needed five yards, they got it; they needed 10, they got it. It starts rolling on you. You don't have time to make your calls, with the speed of the no-huddle."
"Communication, that's the toughest thing," Niner linebacker Bill Romanowski said. "Your cornerback's out there getting ready to play a coverage. Then they come out in an 'empty' formation—that's when Thomas is flanked and there's no one in the backfield—and it's hard to get the call out to the corner. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn't."
"Ping-Pong football," Hull said. And it finally came down to the Bills' last drive, when they were behind by four and Kelly was facing a third-and-16 on the San Francisco 32. Kelly got 12 yards on a crossing pattern to Andre Reed, who made his 10th catch of the day, and nine more on a square-out to James Lofton. Then Thomas banged it in from the 11, and the score was 34-31 with 3:04 left.
The 49ers had one more shot. Young had done a terrific job with a shorthanded offense that had lost Rice and then tight end Brent Jones (hamstring). He had been accurate on his reads, nifty on his scrambles (seven for 50 yards). "If I were running their offense, I'd just have Young roll out every play until they scored," Hull said. "I mean, the guy runs a 4.5 40, and our defense was tired."
It hasn't been easy for Young. There's pressure from above, from Joe Montana and the uncertainty of where Young will fit in when Montana comes back from injured reserve after his right elbow heals, and pressure from below, from Steve Bono, who runs the offense with precision but less flair.
"Sure there's been pressure on Steve," coach George Seifert said earlier in the week. "There's pressure on everybody. That's professional sports. You want to play, you want to coach, then you can't be consumed by pressure. Sometimes it can toughen you, and Steve Young has become a damn good quarterback."