Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 7 match-up with the 49ers.
As he slid through the end zone and between two defenders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans threw an index finger to the sky, in essence suggesting that QB Jameis Winston throw him an alley-oop. Winston, in the process of fighting off pass-rushers, happily complied and the result was a five-yard touchdown.
Evans may very well have been pointing in the direction his team is headed after a 34-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers evened the Buccaneers' 2016 record at 3-3 and gave them their third road victory in four tries. With Atlanta losing in overtime to San Diego on Sunday to fall to 4-3, the Buccaneers moved to within a half-game of the lead in the NFC South.
"I got kind of hit by a linebacker and I was slowed up, and then [Winston] did a great job scrambling and I just threw my hand up and he put it to where only I can get it," said Evans. "We've been working on stuff like that all year. When it's third down, I want to win no matter what the coverage is. He trusts me and he's comfortable with me on third down."
Evans' catch in traffic was his second touchdown of the game, part of a run of 27 unanswered points for the Buccaneers as they rebounded from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit. S Bradley McDougald's second-quarter interception was the first of three Buccaneer takeaways that led to 13 points. Though McDougald's pick and a third-quarter muffed punt only led to six points, Evans' second touchdown was the result of a Gerald McCoy fumble recovery after Jude Adjei-Barimah's blindside hit on QB Colin Kaepernick jarred the ball loose.
"We kept playing," said Winston. "The defense got a couple key stops for us and we executed when they got the stop for us. Hats off to the defense, hats off to the offensive line, and what a game by Jacquizz Rodgers again, just pounding that rock. We just played complementary football."
Even when faced with a long field, Tampa Bay's offense was able to move the ball effectively throughout the game, finishing with 513 yards, its best total so far this season and only the sixth 500-yard game in franchise history. Three of those six have come with Head Coach Dirk Koetter calling the plays, as the Bucs accomplished the feat twice last year while Koetter was the offensive coordinator.
It was an impressively balanced attack for the Buccaneers, too, with Jacquizz Rodgers leading a 249-yard ground game and Winston throwing for 264 nets yards and three touchdowns. That marked the first time in team history that the Buccaneers have had at least 240 yards rushing and 240 yards passing in the same game.
"We stayed resilient," said Evans. "We knew they were a team that started fast with their no-huddle offense and things like that. We stayed resilient just like the Atlanta game we won. We played complementary football and that helped us."
Rodgers continues to be a life-saver in the potentially crippling absence of lead tailback Doug Martin. Rodgers signed with the Buccaneers in Week Two of the regular season, just before Martin went down with a hamstring injury in Arizona. In a Week Five win at Carolina, Rodgers rushed a career-high 30 times and 101 yards, his first career 100-yard game. He followed that up with 26 totes for 154 yards on Sunday against the 49ers' 32nd-ranked rush defense. Rodgers' previous single-game high was 18. Rookie Peyton Barber added 84 yards on 12 carries, including a 44-yard touchdown breakaway that put the game away in the fourth quarter.
"He finished the game for us," said Winston. "We were emphasizing, 'Guys, we're going to finish this game, we're going to finish this game. Peyton Barber took it to the house."
Winston shook off a slow start that included a tipped-ball interception late in the first quarter to complete 21 of 30 passes and compile a 117.2 passer rating, often making throws on the run. While Evans (8-96-2) was unsurprisingly his favorite target, Winston also got a lot of help from WR Russell Shepard, who came into the game with three receptions on the season and 10 in his four-year NFL career. One of the players asked to step up in the wake of Vincent Jackson's move to injured reserve, Shepard caught five passes for 77 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown in the second quarter that gave the Buccaneers their first lead.
Tampa Bay's defense struggled to contain Kaepernick on the ground, as the speedy quarterback ran for 84 yards on a variety of scrambles and zone reads. However, San Francisco never put together a consistent passing attack, with Kaepernick held to 143 yards on 16-of-34 passing, with one touchdown and one interception. He did give the home team a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter with an impressive scramble and 17-yard scoring strike to RB Shaun Draughn.
The return of DT Gerald McCoy clearly helped the Buccaneers' defense, which sacked Kaepernick four times and held the home team to 273 net yards. McCoy had one of the four sacks plus a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass defensed. Rookie DE Noah Spence finished the game with a sack of Kaepernick on the last snap.
The Buccaneers started out slow, falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, but stormed back with 17 unanswered points in the second period to take the lead into halftime. S Bradley McDougald set up a 38-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo, which was sandwiched by Winston touchdown throws to Mike Evans and Russell Shepard.
Tampa Bay had a big statistical edge by halftime, with 307 yards to the 49ers' 173, and it was a very balanced attack for the visitors. Led by Rodgers' 102 first-half yards, which included a career-long 45-yard run one play after McDougald's pick, the Bucs went into the intermission with 143 on the ground and 164 through the air.
Kaepernick led the 49ers right down the field for a touchdown on the game's opening drive. Operating out of a no-huddle, he started the march with a seven-yard scramble then later hit TE Vance McDonald over the middle for 24 yards and WR Torrey Smith near the end zone on the right sideline. The drive, which ended in a four-yard Mike Davis run, was also helped by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call on S Chris Conte when Conte broke up a pass to Quinton Patton with a hard hit.
The Bucs ran the ball on all seven plays of their first drive, but unfortunately the last one was a few inches shorter than it needed to be. After Rodgers picked up 28 yards and two first downs on three totes, the Bucs got six more from Antone Smith but two Rodgers runs left the offense in fourth-and-inches at midfield. Rookie RB Peyton Barber came on to try to get those last few inches but was stopped short.
The Bucs' defense held but an exchange of punts followed, leaving San Francisco at its own 13. The Niners got away from their end zone with a succession of zone-read runs, but Noah Spence's leaping break-up of an attempted screen and DE William Gholston's third-down sack forced another punt.
Unfortunately, the 49ers quickly found themselves in scoring territory thanks to the game's first turnover. On third-and-five, Winston tried to throw a dart to Evans down the left seam but the ball was deflected into the air by CB Tramaine Block's well-timed arrival. LB Gerald Hodges hauled it in and ran down to the Bucs' 17. A one-play drive followed, as Kaepernick scrambled to his right and somehow fit a pass into the hands of RB Shaun Draughn between LB Lavonte David and the sideline.
A leverage penalty on Gerald McCoy on the extra point and an ill-advised return on the ensuing kickoff by S Ryan Smith forced the Bucs to start at their own six. All that did was give the visitors a long field to conquer, as they promptly marched 94 yards on 11 plays for their first score of the game. Rodgers started the drive with runs of five and seven yards, but the big plays were consecutive screen passes to Adam Humphries for 11 and Antone Smith for 30. Winston finished the drive on second-and-goal by stepping away from pressure and lobbing a four-yard TD pass to Evans with 10 minutes left in the half.
Tampa Bay's defense got its first takeaway on the ensuing drive, as McDougald cut in front of a sideline pass intended for McDonald at the Buccaneers' 27. On the very next play, Rodgers broke free up the middle for a 45-yard run, adding on to it at the end by plowing through several defenders. Barber got 14 on the next play to the San Francisco 14. Three plays later, the Bucs faced a fourth-and-inches after a catch by TE Cameron Brate at the five and appeared to be about to go for it before Winston was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the play. That backed the ball up 15 yards and forced the Bucs to settle for Roberto Aguayo's 38-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay's defense forced another punt and the Bucs' took over at their own 23 with 2:34 left in the half. That was enough time for Winston to engineer another touchdown drive, this one covering 77 yards on eight plays. Shepard kept it alive deep in the Bucs' own territory with a diving catch on third-and-three. Shepard's big play was rewarded immediately with an 11-yard pass on the next play, and then at the end when Winston looked to him twice in a row from the 19-yard line. The first one was incomplete but the second was a perfect strike down the right numbers for the go-ahead score.
After winning the coin toss and deferring to start the game, the Bucs received the opening kickoff in the second half but failed to gain a first down. However, they found themselves in 49ers territory moments later when WR Aaron Burbridge bumped into punt returner Jeremy Kerley while Kerley was trying to field a kick, leading to a loose ball.. Tandy fell on it for the Buccaneers at the 49ers' 37. The offense got one first down but stalled at the 19, leading to Aguayo's 37-yard field goal and a 20-14 lead.
Tampa Bay's defense forced another turnover on the ensuing drive to allow the offense to start in Niners' territory again. This time it was a big third-down blitz that resulted in Adjei-Barimah's blindside hit on Kaepernick, causing a fumble that Gerald McCoy recovered at the 27. Evans just missed hauling in a TD pass two plays later but made a sliding catch on the next snap to convert a third-and-nine. On third-and-three from the five, Winston rolled left, narrowly escaped a sack and threw a touchdown pass in traffic to a leaping Evans. As he slid through the middle of the end zone, Evans pointed a finger at the sky to tell Winston to throw a high pass that he could catch above the defenders.
The Buccaneers drove into 49ers territory again early in the fourth quarter but failed to capitalize when Aguayo pushed a 50-yard field goal attempt wide to the right. The 49ers took over at their own 40 and got across midfield when a botched third-down snap was erased by an offsides call on DE Howard Jones. On the next third-down try, Kaepernick completed a pass to TE Garrett Celek. LB Lavonte David punched the ball loose for a fumble but 49ers G Zane Beadles was able to recover it just past the first-down marker. The Bucs then forced San Francisco into a fourth-and-three at the Bucs' 43 but after Kwon Alexander's blitz flushed Kaepernick the fleet quarterback found a wide-open right end and ran for eight yards and a first down. Three plays later, Kaepernick converted another third down with a 17-yard scramble to the Bucs' 10. Tampa Bay's defense held there, forcing San Francisco to settle for a 28-yard field goal and a 27-17 deficit with eight minutes to play. Barber's breakaway run provided the game's final points.