The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense has often been heroic in the second half in 2010, helping the team win a series of close games and streak to a 6-3 start. On Sunday in San Francisco, they got the Bucs started towards a seventh win with what was easily its best first half of the season.
The Buccaneers held San Francisco, which had averaged 370 yards of offense in its last two games, both victories, to 64 yards before the break. RB Frank Gore got only 13 yards on nine carries, and only a 15-yard scramble by QB Troy Smith allowed San Francisco to get to 31 rushing yards in the half.
Smith didn't have much more luck through the air, completing five of eight passes for 40 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Tampa Bay's front line produced significantly more pressure than it has on most Sundays this season, sacking Smith twice and forcing several throwaways. The Bucs also had the only takeaway of the first half, as LB Geno Hayes forced a fumble by WR Josh Morgan in the first quarter.
The Bucs' offense started slowly too but was able to pull it together for a 14-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter. RB LeGarrette Blount gained 55 yards on 13 carries, 29 of them on four totes on that scoring drive. Rejuvenated RB Cadillac Williams added 23 yards on five runs, including a six-yard touchdown rush on a draw play that provided the only points of the opening half. QB Josh Freeman was a little off target on the Bucs' first few drives but eventually completed four of nine passes for 31 yards and had several key chain-moving scrambles.
The Buccaneers won the toss and elected to receive, with Micheal Spurlock getting the opening kickoff back to the 23. Blount, making his first career start, ran for three yards on first down, and Freeman followed with a four-yard out to WR Sammie Stroughter. On third-and-three, Freeman scrambled around right end and went out of bounds at the Bucs 35 for a first down. Cadillac Williams and Blount provided back-to-back three-yard runs up the middle, but Freeman was sacked on third down for a loss of three. Freeman escaped two near sacks but eventually was trapped by LB Patrick Willis.
The 49ers' first drive started at their own 28 after Robert Malone's 41-yard punt. S Cody Grimm stuck Gore on a first-down carry up the middle, stopping it for no gain. However, a misdirection screen pass to Gore worked well on second down, picking up 14 yards and a first down at the 42. A sweep right by Gore was good for just one yard but a roughing-the-passer penalty on LB Adam Hayward led to another first down at the Bucs' 42. On the next play, however, Hayward scooped up the loose ball after Hayes knocked it out of Morgan's hands with a crushing hit.
The Bucs took over at their own 38 and tried a play-action pass but the 49ers weren't fooled and Freeman had to throw it away under pressure. Two plays later, on third-and-10, Freeman threw an incompletion over TE Kellen Winslow's head on the left sideline and the Bucs had to punt again. Malone launched a high kick that WR Maurice Stovall nearly downed at the one, but it got into the end zone for a touchback.
The Bucs' defense sniffed out another screen to start the next drive and Smith was forced to take a sack, with DE Michael Bennett dropping him for a loss of two. After a Gore run got those two yards back, another screen pass to the same man was complete but stopped four yards short of the sticks by S Sean Jones. Spurlock's 17-yard run on the ensuing punt got the ball back to the Bucs' 38.
A five-yard run by Blount started the next drive, and he dashed over left tackle on second down to get within a yard of the first down. After his third-and-one run failed, the Bucs tried a trick play, shifting out of punt formation and letting Spurlock throw an out to Graham, but the play was broken up by RB Anthony Dixon.
The 49ers thus got the ball back at the Bucs' 47, where Gerald McCoy and Al Woods promptly sacked Smith for a loss of five. Unfortunately, Smith scrambled up the middle on second down and found a wide-open field, running 15 yards to the Bucs' 37. DT Roy Miller caught Gore from behind for a loss of four on the next play, and on third-and-11 Jones broke up a pass intended for WR Michael Crabtree down the middle of the field.
Freeman misfired on a first-down out to WR Arrelious Benn, but Blount pounded his way through the pack for 11 yards and a first down. Two snaps later, reserve QB Josh Johnson took a shotgun and ran around left end for another 11-yard gain as the first quarter ended. Freeman started the second quarter with his sharpest pass of the day to that point, an out to Mike Williams that picked up 13 yards and moved the ball into 49ers territory for the first time. A play-action screen to Winslow gained seven more and then Blount bulled his way for 12 more with the type of tackle-breaking run that is quickly becoming his trademark. Freeman's own scramble two plays later produced another first down at the 49ers' 16, and a quick slant by Benn was good for seven. Head Coach Raheem Morris sprinted down the field before the next snap to call a timeout. After a quick strategy session, the Bucs handed off underneath to Graham, who was stopped just short of a first down. Freeman snuck the ball over left guard on third down to earn a new set of downs. A first-down pass attempt to Winslow was incomplete, but a draw play to Cadillac Williams did the trick, as he zipped up the middle for the game's first score.
A 30-yard kickoff return by Ted Ginn allowed San Fran to start the ensuing drive at their own 39, and two Gore runs made it third-and-three. The 49ers tried yet another screen pass to Gore to move the chains but he dropped it. San Francisco's punt pushed the Bucs back to their own 21 but Blount immediately powered over right tackle for a gain of five. Josh Johnson came in for another snap and this time he faked his run and threw a quick pass down the line to Benn, who surged forward for seven more. Blount went for four yards on first down but was stopped for just one on second down. The Bucs used their second timeout before the third-down play but couldn't get a completion against a heavy 49ers blitz.
San Francisco started again at their own 31 and Smith threw incomplete on first down under heavy pressure from Stylez G. White. Two plays later, Smith scrambled again with McCoy in chase, but was able to buy enough time to hit WR Michael Crabtree at the Bucs' 49. DE Alex Magee prevented a big play on an end-around by TE Delanie Walker with a solo tackle, and Grimm stopped TE Vernon Davis on a second-down pass, four yards short of a first down. After the two-minute warning, the 49ers tried a draw play to Gore but LB Barrett Ruud blitzed into the backfield and stopped him for a loss of one, forcing a punt.
Spurlock called for a fair catch at the 10. The 49ers had three timeouts left, so the Bucs needed a first down in order to keep them from getting the ball back in the first half. They did so easily, with Cadillac Williams taking three consecutive draw-play handoffs and gaining 14 yards.