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Series History: Bucs-49ers

Posted Dec 11, 2013

San Francisco dominated the series with Tampa Bay early, and still holds a 16-4 edge overall, but the Bucs have managed a handful of memorable victories since the 1990s, including one in the playoffs

  • San Francisco has a big lead in the all-time series with Tampa Bay, with a sizeable home field advantage helping matters
  • The Bucs' season-opening win over the 49ers in 1997 launched a long run of playoff contention for Tampa Bay
  • San Francisco is making its first visit to Raymond James Stadium since 2004
Last Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Buffalo Bills, 27-6, at Raymond James Stadium, running their all-time record against Buffalo to 7-3.  Strangely, nine of those 10 games have been played in Tampa, meaning the Buccaneers have only visited upstate New York once in almost four decades of play.

In many ways, the San Francisco 49ers are to the Buccaneers what the Buccaneers are to the Bills.

The Bucs and 49ers have met exactly twice as often as the Bucs and Bills (plus one postseason game for Tampa Bay and San Francisco), but the series has been just as lopsided, both geographically and on the scoreboard.  San Francisco is 16-4 in the head-to-head series with Tampa Bay, and 16 of those 20 games have been played in the other Bay area.  In fact, though the Buccaneers were matched up with San Francisco six times in their first nine seasons of existence, the 49ers didn't visit Tampa until 1986.

The 49ers' dominance in the series is not terribly surprising, given that San Francisco was the NFL's most consistently successful team over the 1980s and '90s combined, and the Bucs spent about 70% of that span in a downturn.  However, when the Buccaneers pulled out of that dip under new ownership in the mid-'90s, the 49ers actually popped up in several seminal moments in Tampa Bay's franchise history.  More on that in a moment.

The Bucs and 49ers first met in 1977, in Tampa Bay's second season and its first year in the NFC after a planned one-year run in the AFC in 1976.  The Bucs traveled cross-country for a Week Seven visit to Candlestick Park, still trying to break a franchise-opening run of 20 consecutive losses.  It didn't happen in San Francisco, as the 49ers ran for 205 yards in a fairly easy 20-10 decision.  The Bucs came back to try again the next year, in early December, and it was much closer but still not a victory.  Tampa Bay's defense had quietly emerged as one of the league's best by this point – portending a rise to #1 the next season – and it managed to collect four interceptions and five sacks on the day, including two picks against future Buc quarterback Steve DeBerg.  Still, Ray Wersching kicked his second field goal of the day as time expired to give the home team a 6-3 win.

-- Tampa Bay's last win in the series came in San Francisco in 2010 and featured DT G. McCoy's first NFL sack
The Bucs were probably favored to win when they came back almost exactly a year later, in early December of 2009, as they brought a 9-5 record into Candlestick against a 1-13 San Francisco team.  The 23-7 final in the 49ers favor – built largely on five interceptions off QB Doug Williams – likely fueled what would grow into a perception that the Buccaneers couldn't win on the West Coast.

In fact, they did win there the next season, as Garo Yepremian's 30-yard field goal in the final minute produced a 24-23 final at Candlestick.  The running game led the way with 174 yards and three scores, including 79 yards and two TDs for Jerry Eckwood.  Joe Montana was just taking over the reins in the second half of this season in San Francisco; he and the 49ers would begin their long run of success the next year.  The Buccaneers came back to San Fran in 1983 and 1984, losing both times; Tampa Bay wouldn't get its next win on the West Coast for another decade and a half.

It would be about that long before the Bucs beat the 49ers again, too.  They came close a few times, most notably in 1989, when San Francisco visited Tampa Stadium in September, coming in as the defending Super Bowl champs.  The 49ers would go on to win their second straight title that year, but they barely got out of Tampa with a win.  The Bucs took a 16-13 lead on Vinny Testaverde's three-yard touchdown pass to Mark Carrier with 3:25 left in regulation, and a potential upset loomed large.  Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, Montana loomed even larger on the other sideline.  He directed a 10-play, 70-yard, three-minute drive – aided by a third-and-goal defensive holding call on an incompletion – that ended in his own four-yard touchdown run.  The Bucs' defense, which had sacked Montana four times and picked him off twice, couldn't hold back the star quarterback in crunch time.

"That's a bad dude," said Buccaneers LB Winston Moss afterward, summing up the feeling of most Montana opponents at that time.  "He's as bad as they come.  You never know if you're gonna win when you're playing against him."

In 1997, however, things turned for the Buccaneers, and it began with a visit from the 49ers.  Steve Young was at the helm for San Francisco by this time (coincidentally, Joe Montana's first game with his new team, Kansas City, had occurred at Tampa Stadium four years earlier) as the 49ers came to town for the '97 season opener.  The 49ers were still one of the NFL's best teams (they would eventually make it back to the conference championship game that year) but the Buccaneers had begun a turnaround in the second half of 1996 under new Head Coach Tony Dungy.  The 1997 opener became the launching point for a new era of Buccaneer success.

Playing their first regular-season game in their new red and pewter uniforms, the Buccaneers unleashed a defensive onslaught against Young, Jerry Rice and company.  San Francisco was held without a touchdown for the first time in six years and DT Warren Sapp led the Bucs' defense with 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks, in the process inadvertently injuring both Young and Rice.  The Bucs won, 13-6, starting a five-game winning streak that would land them on the cover of Sports Illustrated, point them towards the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and begin the legend of the Buccaneers' defense of the mid-90s to mid-00s.

That rise that began in 1997 culminated in the Buccaneers' 2002 Super Bowl season.  Tampa Bay went 12-4 during the '02 regular season and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs, eventually welcoming San Francisco to Raymond James Stadium for the divisional round.  The 49ers had escaped one of the wildest playoff games in NFL history the week before, winning 39-38 over the New York Giants when a potential game-winning field goal on the last play was aborted due to a bad snap.  All that bought San Francisco was a complete drubbing in Tampa, as Brad Johnson and the Buccaneers rolled to an easy 31-6 win. Johnson threw two touchdown passes and the Bucs' defense picked off San Francisco QB Jeff Garcia three times.  FB Mike Alstott also found the end zone twice for Tampa Bay.

San Francisco got a bit of revenge the next year, winning 24-7 back in California, this time with Garcia throwing two touchdown passes and Johnson getting picked off three times.  The Bucs missed the playoffs that season, but that 2003 Tampa Bay team was considered quite a bit better than the 2004 squad that went 5-11.  The 49ers had fallen on even tougher teams in '04, however, finishing 2-14, and their visit to Tampa in November was the brightest spot in the season for the Buccaneers.  Tampa Bay won, 35-3, with Michael Pittman rushing for 106 yards and two scores and Joe Jurevicius catching a pair of touchdown passes from Brian Griese.  Tampa Bay's defense held San Francisco to 197 yards of total offense in what would prove to be the 49ers' last visit to Tampa until this year's return.

The 49ers won a pair of close decisions in 2005 and 2007, both in San Francisco and both in seasons that the Buccaneers would actually make it to the playoffs.  In the '07 meeting, the Bucs scored with just over a minute left when Luke McCown hit Jerramy Stevens on a 24-yard touchdown pass, but the two-point conversion attempt failed and the Bucs lost, 21-19.  Tampa Bay had pulled some of its starters, including Garcia, because they had already secured a playoff spot.

The Bucs made two more trips to San Francisco in 2010 and 2011, resulting in one dominant victory for each side.  The 2010 game ranks as the last time Tampa Bay's defense has pitched a shutout; the Bucs racked up six sacks of QB Troy Smith and left tackle Donald Penn scored his first career touchdown on a trick-play pass from Josh Freeman.  The following  year, it was all San Francisco in a 48-3 victory that began the Bucs' slide from 3-1 to 4-12.

Bucs' Game-by-Game Record vs. San Francisco:





L, 20-10

San Francisco


L, 6-3

San Francisco


L, 23-7

San Francisco


W, 24-23

San Francisco


L, 35-21

San Francisco


L, 24-17

San Francisco


L, 31-7



L, 24-10



L, 20-16



L, 31-7

San Francisco


L, 21-14

San Francisco


L, 45-21



L, 41-16

San Francisco


W, 13-6



W, 31-6



L, 24-7

San Francisco

2004 *

W, 35-3



L, 15-10

San Francisco


L, 21-19

San Francisco


W, 21-0

San Francisco


L, 48-3

San Francisco

* Postseason

Series Notes:
  • Overall Season Series: San Francisco leads, 16-4
  • Bucs' Home Record: 2-4
  • Bucs' Road Record: 2-12
  • Current Streak: Lose 1 (2011)
  • Buccaneers' Longest Winning Streak: 2 (1997-02)
  • 49ers' Longest Winning Streak: 9 (1983-94)
  • Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 281, Bills 413
  • Most Points in a Game, Buccaneers: Buccaneers 35-3 (2004)
  • Most Points in a Game, 49ers: 49ers 48-3 (2011)
  • Most Points, both teams: 49ers 45-21 (1993)
  • Fewest Points in a Game, Buccaneers: 49ers 48-3 (2011)
  • Fewest Points in a Game, 49ers: Buccaneers 21-0 (2010)
  • Fewest Points in a Game, both teams: 49ers 6-3 (1978)