A 14-point hole after 15 minutes wasn’t enough to deny the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ march back to .500.
The Bucs’ balanced offensive attack rattled off 27 consecutive points from the second to third quarters and host San Francisco never recovered. Quarterback Jameis Winston woke up from a sluggish first quarter to throw for 269 yards and three touchdowns and running back Jacquizz Rodgers enjoyed a career afternoon with 154 yards on 26 carries.
San Francisco went with Colin Kaepernick under center for the second straight week and comfort in Coach Chip Kelly’s offense remains elusive. After engineering a 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game, the sixth-year quarterback failed to do much else. Kaepernick showed off his dual-threat capabilities rushing for a team-high 84 yards on nine attempts, but, like last week in Buffalo, completed under 50 percent of his passes (16 of 34) for 143 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Sweetening Sunday’s Bay Area victory was the overtime home loss of NFC South leading Atlanta to San Diego. At 3-3, Tampa Bay is now in second place and a half game behind the Falcons (4-3). New Orleans’ loss at Kansas City dropped the Saints into third place at 2-4 and leaves reigning division champ Carolina in last place at 1-5.
Tampa Bay’s 513 total net yards of offense represents a season high and it’s the third time the Bucs have topped 500 in two years with Dirk Koetter directing the attack.
MIKE MIKE MIKE
Tampa Bay needed a big day from their No. 1 wideout in the absence of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans stepped up to the challenge.
Evans exited the game briefly after Winston threw an interception and the receiver took a hard block on the return, but that wasn’t enough to slow him down. The third-year pro caught eight of 13 targets for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
SHEP TO THE RESCUE Speaking of filling the void left by Jackson, reserve receiver and special teams specialist Russell Shepard didn’t disappoint.
The fourth-year veteran caught five of six targets for 77 yards, including the 19-yard touchdown late in the first half that put Tampa Bay ahead for good, 17-14.
Shepard entered the game with 113 yards and one touchdown on 10 catches – for his career.
RED ZONE HEAT
Settling for field goals on trips inside the red zone has been getting Tampa Bay in trouble this season, but the Bucs did a decent job reversing that trend in San Fran.
Winston and the offense found the end zone on three of five opportunities inside the 49ers 20. Evans was a bright spot in this instance, as well. The big-bodied receiver’s two scores came from 4-and 5-yards out.
The other red-zone touchdown went 19 yards to receiver Russell Shepard.
Winston’s 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second quarter turned a would-be fourth-and-1 situation from the San Francisco 5 to a fourth-and-16 from the 20.
A full season of perfection isn’t going to ever happen for any kicker, but one afternoon of it would be comforting.
Bucs rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo was on his way for a perfect day, hitting both field goal chances and three extra points through three quarters. Then came a 50-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth and Aguayo sent an awful attempt into the air.
Aguayo’s two makes were from 38 and 37 yards out. He snuck the 38-yarder inside the left upright when kicking from the left hash. When Tampa Bay is able to set it up, they put Aguayo on the right hash as he prefers.
Aguayo is not 6 of 11 on field goal attempts this season and 8 of 9 on extra points.
Koetter and Tampa Bay committed to establishing the run once again and Jacquizz Rodgers made sure the strategy looked good.
Two weeks after going for 101 yards on 30 carries in Carolina, Rodgers blew up for 154 on 26 in San Francisco.
The Bucs didn’t let a first-quarter, 14-0 deficit change their approach as the powerful, 5-foot-6 running back kept ripping off big run after big run. Rodgers surpassed the century mark before halftime. He went into the locker room at the break with 110 yards on 13 attempts, an 8.5-yard average.
Speaking of running backs and big days, rookie Peyton Barber get in on the action with 84 yards on 12 carries and scored his first NFL touchdown.
Things didn’t start out great for Barber, getting stuffed on fourth-and-1 during Tampa Bay’s first drive, but he slowly turned his performance around. More than half of his rushing yardage came on a 44-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter that iced the victory.
BACK TO SACK
After failing to register a single hit on Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson in Carolina, Bucs defenders got themselves back in their opponent’s backfield.
Tampa Bay brought down Kaepernick four times for 30 yards and totaled seven hits on the elusive quarterback.
Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald remained out Sunday, but getting fellow tackle Gerald McCoy back proved to be hugely impactful. McCoy finished his day with three tackles, one sack, one pass defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Picking up the three other sacks were defensive lineman William Gholston, cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah and defensive end Noah Spence.
Spence, a rookie, turned in his biggest game of the year. The sack was his second and he also recorded a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and batted down one of Kaepernick’s pass attempts.
The Bucs’ terrible turnover differential caused plenty of problems at the start of the season, but the team has flipped that into a positive lately.
Tampa Bay won the turnover battle 3-1 Sunday over San Francisco, recovering two of four fumbles and picking off Kaepernick once.
Winston’s first-half interception represented the team’s lone turnover, but receiver/punt returner Adam Humphries nearly gave away possession twice by muffing a pair of punts.
McCoy, Adjei-Barimah and linebacker Lavonte David forced fumbles for Tampa Bay and McCoy and safety Keith Tandy recovered two of the loose balls.
Safety Bradley McDougald grabbed the interception early in the second quarter while covering tight end Vance McDonald.
UP NEXT Tampa Bay will be back home to host the first-place Oakland Raiders (5-2) next Sunday trying to get above .500 for the second time this season after winning its opener at Atlanta.