A year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the 49ers, 21-0, at Candlestick Park for their first win San Francisco in 30 years. In their return to Candlestick on Sunday, the Buccaneers will need that same scoring margin in the second half merely to force a tie.
Riding the momentum of two interceptions off QB Josh Freeman and RB Frank Gore's 59 rushing yards, the 49ers surged to a 24-3 lead at halftime on Sunday. Gore scored the last of three Niner touchdowns in the half on a two-yard run, following QB Alex Smith's 26-yard scoring pass to TE Delanie Walker and Carlos Rogers' 31-yard interception return for a TD.
Freeman completed 10 of his 22 passes for 101 yards and the two costly interceptions, both of which led to 49er scores. After Rogers' pick-six on the first play of the second quarter, CB Chris Culliver set up Gore's touchdown just minutes later with another pick near midfield. In addition to those two picks, an aggressive San Francisco secondary batted down five more of Freeman's passes.
Though special teams have been a winning edge for the Buccaneers during their 3-1 start to the season, the 49ers prevailed in that area of the game in the first half. Most notably, dangerous return man Ted Ginn picked up 51 yards on three punt returns, helping hold standout Bucs punter Michael Koenen to a net of 36.5 yards per kick.
The Buccaneers also suffered the only first-half injury of note, as DT Gerald McCoy was helped off the field after being bent awkwardly backwards in the middle of a pile. McCoy was reported to have an ankle injury and was considered questionable to return to the game at some point.
San Francisco won the toss but deferred their choice to the second half, so the Bucs took the opening kickoff. Freeman faked a handoff to LeGarrette Blount on first down but eventually had to check down to the back and it was good for just two yards. Blount got the ball on second down and stepped his way through a crowd up the middle for six more. On third-and-two, Preston Parker caught a pass that would have moved the chains but the play came back due to illegal motion. That made it third-and-seven, and Freeman eventually had to throw it away after scrambling right. Ted Ginn followed Koenen's 49-yard punt with a 22-yard return, so the 49ers began their first drive right on the midfield stripe.
The 49ers got a quick first down when Gore's five-yard catch was followed by a second Bucs penalty, this one encroachment. Smith had to burn a timeout before the next play and the eventual call was a Gore run up the middle that Dekoda Watson stopped for a gain of just one. However, another catch by Gore over the middle worked better, to the tune of 12 yards and a first down at the Bucs' 26. On the next play, Smith threaded a seam pass between three Buccaneer defenders and Walker caught it for the game's opening score.
Another touchback put the Bucs back at their own 20, but Benn took a well-designed receiver screen up the left sideline for a gain of 33. Blount then found a nice seam for a gain of nine to the San Francisco 38. After an unsuccessful crack at the end zone with Benn, Freeman moved the chains with a short sneak on third-and-one. Mike Williams put the Bucs into another short third down at the 29 with a fine juggling catch while getting hit, and a dumpoff over the middle to Kregg Lumpkin led to a new set of downs at the 25. Parker found an open spot in the right flat on the next play for a 13-yard catch, but Blount's run on first-and-10 from the 12. A nice draw by Earnest Graham got the ball to the six but a third-down pass attempt to Williams was incomplete. The Bucs still got three points out of the long drive on Connor Barth's 24-yard field goal.
Smith struck quickly on San Francisco's second drive, as well, finding Crabtree cutting over the middle for a 21-yard gain out to the 49ers' 46. Ginn's end-around on the next play went all the way to the left sideline, then all the way back to the middle of the field and was eventually good for 24 more to the Bus' 30. Da'Quan Bowers' leaping deflection at the line kept Smith's next pass from getting to its intended target, and Bowers' diving trip of Gore on second down made it third-and-10. Unfortunately, Smith found Morgan on a quick slant on the left that picked up 14 more. Two plays later, Gore fumbled and Foster recovered at the 11. Unfortunately, the 49ers' defense answered right back on the first play of the second quarter, with Rogers picking off a pass intended for TE Kellen Winslow and returning it 31 yards for the Niners' second touchdown. Rogers alertly came off Mike Williams on the play and it appeared as if Freeman did not expect to see the defender in his passing lane to Winslow.
Freeman did get his next pass to Winslow in to the target, converting a third down with a 17-yard strike. A 16-yard slant to Benn on which the young receiver made a great grab on a hard slant and got down to the Niners' 39. A Blount run on first down picked up four but could have been more if not for a great foot tackle by Patrick Willis. Rogers then made another big play by hitting Benn immediately on a screen for a loss of three. On the next play, Freeman looked for WR Micheal Spurlock on a deep slant but Culliver fought the ball away from the receiver and returned his pick 23 yards to the San Fran 43.
Back-to-back runs of six and 13 yards by Gore took the ball down to the Bucs' 25 and a pass interference call on Watson put the ball at the one-yard line. Gore got two more handoffs, and the second one went over left guard for a two-yard score and a 21-3 San Francisco lead.
A bouncing kickoff worked in the home team's favor after that score when parker had to field it late at the three and was able to get back only to the 13. That drive didn't last long, though, as Blount ran for two yards on first down and Freeman's next two passes fell incomplete. Koenen uncharacteristically shanked his punt but it did at least roll one yard into 49ers territory.
Obviously content to run the ball with a big lead, the Niners gave it to Gore two more times and he picked up six and 21 yards to the Bucs' 24. The Bucs held there, however, and San Francisco added just three points to its lead on David Akers' 37-yard field goal.
From the 20 after a touchback, Freeman tried to hit Winslow down the left seam but it was nearly picked off by CB Tarrell Brown. Two plays later, on third-and-six, Freeman went down with the day's first sack, a four-yarder by rookie LB Aldon Smith. Koenen blasted a 54-yard punt but Ginn got 29 of them back with another strong return.
Smith scrambled left on third down and tried to direct Walker into an open spot downfield, but his deep heave was incomplete. Two plays later, CB Elbert Mack had good coverage on Crabtree over the middle and Smith's pass was off the receiver's hands. Andy Lee's punt was fair caught by Parker at the Bucs' five.
A seven-yard run by Graham on a draw brought on the two-minute warning, and a short pass to Winslow on second down gained just two. On third-and-one, a hard pass over the middle to WR Dezmon Briscoe bought the Bucs a new set of downs. However, it was third-and-10 after two incompletions and Freeman's pass to Winslow over the middle was bobbled and dropped, though it was well short of a first down anyway.