ORCHARD PARK N.Y. (CBS/AP) — It’s a free country, so it makes no difference to Rex Ryan whether Colin Kaepernick continues to kneel in protest during the national anthem when Buffalo hosts the 49ers on Sunday.
The Bills coach is more concerned what the San Francisco quarterback can do with his arm and legs once the game begins now that Kaepernick has reclaimed the starting job .
“I’m not worried about that kind of figure,” Ryan said, referring to Kaepernick transcending football and entering the national political discussion with his public stance against racial oppression and police brutality.
“I’m worried about the quarterback,” he added. “Any time you lead a team to a Super Bowl, that’s pretty good. So that’s where our focus certainly is on preparing for him.”
Ryan has no intention of the Bills losing their focus even though he believes standing for the anthem pays respect to members of the armed forces.
Buffalo (3-2) has won three straight , and the objective is making it four in a row, which would mark the Bills’ best streak since going 4-0 to open 2008.
“Make no mistake, we’re still kicking dirt off ourselves from the start we had,” Ryan said. “We’re not that good. We’re not good enough to overlook anybody, let alone the 49ers.”
San Francisco (1-4) has lost four straight and seeking any semblance of a spark, which is one of the reasons first-year coach Chip Kelly made the switch at quarterback by benching Blaine Gabbert .
“It’s not Blaine’s fault,” Kelly said. “We just felt we needed to do something on the offensive side of the ball to get us going. When you look at the depth of the offensive side of the ball, it’s really the one maneuver we could make.”
Little has gone right for the 49ers since a 28-0 season-opening rout of an undisciplined Los Angeles Rams opponent. In their past four games, Gabbert has thrown four touchdowns and six interceptions, and the Niners have managed just 16 big plays (10 or more yards rushing, 20 or more yards passing) after having seven against L.A.
Enter Kaepernick, who made a splash with his dual-threat abilities in leading San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance in 2013 — a 34-31 loss to Baltimore — and to the NFC championship game the following year, which the 49ers lost to Seattle. His production has tailed off since, with injuries playing a factor. In the past 11 months, he’s had operations on his left non-throwing shoulder, left knee and right thumb.
Kaepernick’s last start was Nov. 1, when his record dropped to 2-6 following a 27-6 loss at St. Louis.
“As a competitor, you always want to be in a position where you can help your team win football games,” Kaepernick said. “I now have that opportunity and want to take full advantage of it.”
Here’s a number of things to look for Sunday:
RAISED PLATFORM: Kaepernick doesn’t feel added pressure to succeed to help expand his voice .
“If me winning some games and playing well amplifies how much people want to listen to what I’m saying and what I’m fighting for, great,” he said. “But regardless of what happens on the field, there’s nothing that can delegitimize what this movement is about.”
CHIP VS. LESEAN PART II: Bills running back LeSean McCoy caused a stir last year by using a profanity in saying he wouldn’t shake then-Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s hand before Buffalo’s game at Philadelphia. McCoy was upset in believing Kelly’s decision to trade him to Buffalo was possibly racially motivated.
McCoy still isn’t likely to shake Kelly’s hand Sunday, but was far more reserved in sharing his emotions toward his former coach.
“I never really had an issue with him,” McCoy said. “Some things we didn’t see eye to eye, but that’s tons of players and coaches.”
POROUS D: The 49ers have allowed a 100-yard rusher for four straight weeks, contributing to San Francisco having the league’s second-worst rushing defense at 146.8 yards per game. The Niners will have their hands full this week against McCoy, who has a combined 330 yards rushing and three TDs (including one receiving) in the past three games since Anthony Lynn replaced Greg Roman as offensive coordinator.
STOUT D: Led by 10th-year journeyman Lorenzo Alexander’s NFL-leading seven sacks, the Bills have 17 already — four fewer than they had last year. Buffalo is also third in the NFL with 11 takeaways (five fumbles, six interceptions), including three returned for touchdowns.
O-LINE SWITCH: The move to Kaepernick might not be the only change on offense. Rookie guard Joshua Garnett played 18 snaps as a reserve last week and could start against the Bills in place of Andrew Tiller. The Niners traded up to draft Garnett in the first round, but he didn’t get a single snap on offense the first four weeks.
© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed