Following its first Monday Night Football win in eight years and riding on the high of a three-game winning streak, Tampa Bay’s spirits were abruptly yanked back down to earth by a lopsided 48-3 loss in San Francisco.
The 49ers utterly dominated Sunday afternoon’s Week 5 matchup, scoring quickly on their first drive to go up 7-0 and then never looking back. Tampa Bay responded with a 24-yard field goal on its ensuing possession to make it 7-3, but that was as close as the Buccaneers would get.
The 45-point loss represented the worst margin of defeat Tampa Bay has suffered since a 45-0 beating by the Jon Gruden-led Oakland Raiders in 1999. It was also the third time the Bucs lost to San Francisco in the past five meetings and the 49ers now lead the all-time regular-season series, 16-4.
Monday’s game was played in sunny, cool conditions on a 62-degree day and the official paid attendance at Candlestick Park was reported as 69,732.
Starting on defense for Tampa Bay was: LE Michael Bennett, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Brian Price, RE Adrian Clayborn, WLB Geno Hayes, MLB Mason Foster, SLB Dekoda Watson, LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Ronde Barber, SS Sean Jones, FS Corey Lynch.
The Bucs lined up offensively with: WR Mike Williams, LT Donald Penn, LG Jeremy Zuttah, C Jeff Faine, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Arrelious Benn, RB LeGarrette Blount, FB Erik Lorig and QB Josh Freeman.
Seven Buccaneers were listed as inactive. They were S Devin Holland, WR Sammie Stroughter, LB Zac Diles, LB Quincy Black, OT James Lee, OT Derek Hardman and OT James Lee.
San Francisco outgained Tampa Bay in terms of total yardage 418-272 and the 49ers scored on seven of nine offensive possessions, not including two drives that came at the end of both halves. San Francisco was forced to punt only once, compared to Tampa Bay’s six.
The Bucs defense was picked apart by San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith [11 of 19 for 170 yards and a career-high three touchdowns] and repeatedly gashed by running back Frank Gore [20 carries for 125 yards and one touchdown]. The Tampa Bay pass rush failed to register a sack for the first time since the Bucs’ Week 1 loss to Detroit.
Staying true to its league-leaguing plus-eight turnover margin, the 49ers won that battle 3-1 on Sunday. San Francisco converted all three of its takeaways into touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s lone forced turnover came on the Niners’ second drive of the game when linebacker Mason Foster’s recovered fumble gave the Bucs possession at their own 11. Tampa Bay could have at least narrowed that turnover margin on two occasions during the same third-quarter 49er drive. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Elbert Mack dropped interception opportunities before San Francisco eventually converted a 27-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay needed only two plays to squander its forced turnover opportunity in a big way. On the first play of the second quarter, quarterback Josh Freeman threw the first of his two interceptions and San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers returned it 31-yards for a touchdown. The play-action pass was intended for tight end Kellen Winslow and Rogers easily cut in front for the pick to make it 14-3 49ers. It was the third consecutive game Rogers recorded an interception.
Freeman struggled from the start, completing only 17 of his 33 passes for 187 yards and the two interceptions. He finished with a season-low 43.4 passer rating, was sacked two times and had eight of his passes broken up by 49ers defenders. Freeman nearly had two other passes nabbed, including a first-quarter deep ball to receiver Arrelious Benn in the end zone.
Seven offensive plays after the pick-six, San Francisco was ball hawking once again. Cornerback Chris Culliver reached in front of Bucs receiver Michael Spurlock and wrestled away Freeman’s pass, returning the interception 23 yards to the San Francisco 43.
The 49ers covered 57 yards in just five plays spanning 2 minutes and 35 seconds after the turnover and capped the drive with Gore’s 2-yard touchdown run. Helping set up the scoring run was a 24-yard pass interference penalty called against Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson when he failed to look back for the ball while defending tight end Vernon Davis.
Coming off a 14-penalty game Monday night against Indianapolis, Tampa Bay’s play again garnered plenty of attention from the refereeing crew. The Bucs picked up nine for 96 yards in San Francisco.
Making matters worse for Tampa Bay, the Bucs also took hits on the injury report Sunday. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had to be helped off the field during San Francisco’s first-quarter drive that ended in Foster’s fumble recovery. Running back LeGarrette Blount left the game in the third quarter after taking a hit to his left leg by safety Dashon Goldson at the end of a 29-yard catch-and-run. Neither player returned to the field of play.
Blount [10 carries for 34 yards] and the Tampa Bay running game was a nonfactor Sunday, especially after falling behind by multiple scores. The Bucs rushed for a total of 86 yards on 23 attempts.
San Francisco, on the other hand, was running at will all day. Mixing in a number of three-tight-end sets throughout the afternoon, the 49ers controlled the line of scrimmage and picked up 5.9 yards per touch for a total of 213 yards on 36 attempts.
The 49ers won the opening coin toss and deferred to Tampa Bay, giving San Francisco the ball to start the second half with a 21-3 advantage. Not much changed after halftime adjustments and San Francisco marched 80 yards in seven plays to go up 28-3. Smith hit Vernon Davis on an intermediate route over the middle – a soft spot all day for the Tampa Bay
defense – and the Pro Bowl tight end took care of the rest, breaking the tackle attempts of cornerback Ronde Barber and safety Sean Jones for a 23-yard touchdown.
Tampa Bay’s all-around frustration began to show on its next possession. Freeman hit Winslow [5 catches for 54 yards] for a 12-yard gain and a first down, but Bucs head coach Raheem Morris was tagged with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that pushed Tampa Bay back to its own 17. The Bucs moved into San Francisco territory, thanks in large part to the 29-yard reception Blount was hurt on, but failed to get any deeper than the 33. Tampa Bay elected to go for it on fourth-and-2, but Freeman’s deep ball down the left side to receiver Mike Williams sailed long.
Following a David Akers 27-yard field goal on San Francisco’s next possession, Tampa Bay committed its third and final turnover when Goldson rocked Williams to jar loose a fumble and erase what would have been an eight-yard pickup.
Linebacker Patrick Willis [game-high 12 tackles] jumped on the fumble and gave Smith the ball at Tampa Bay’s 36. The Bucs appeared to keep the Niners out of the end zone this time and limit them to a 46-yard Akers field goal. But in lockstep with their overall performance, Watson was penalized on a leverage call – trying to elevate himself off another player while attempting to block the kick – and San Francisco was given new life at the Tampa Bay 14. Smith quickly hit Davis for their second hookup of the day; this time a 14 yarder to the back left of the end zone after Davis beat Barber.
Now ahead 41-3, the touchdown from Smith was the last pass attempt of his day. Backup Colin Kaepernick relieved him of duty with 9:57 remaining and successfully led a touchdown drive of his own. It was also backup running back Kendall Hunter’s turn to slash through the Bucs’ shoddy run defense, breaking off a 44 yarder and totaling 54 yards on four touches during an 11-play, 90-yard scoring drive. Running back Anthony Dixon iced it with his 1-yard touchdown rush up the middle.
With 3:48 still remaining, Freeman gave way to backup Josh Johnson for Tampa Bay’s 11th and final drive. Johnson moved the Bucs’ reserves 14 yards to the San Francisco 45 before punter Michael Koenen returned possession and Kaepernick could get the 49ers into the victory formation for two more snaps.
The loss drops Tampa Bay to 3-2 on the season and behind first-place New Orleans (4-1). The Bucs host the Saints next Sunday at 4:15.