It was clearly Week 1 because neither team looked particularly sharp on Sunday. The big story was first and foremost penalties on both sides. The Bucs finished with 11 penalties for 87 yards, while San Francisco gave up the same amount of yards on eight flags. More concerning, there were a total of five touchdowns called back (two for the Bucs and three for the 49ers) over the course of the game. Each team was gifted four first downs due to their opponent's missteps and drives were kept alive on both sides.
"We had too many turnovers and had too many penalties, and that messed us up," right tackle said Demar Dotson, who had two holding penalties that negated touchdowns called against him. "We did a bad job of beating ourselves and we've got to go back and stop that. If we do a better job of not beating ourselves, then we can beat somebody else."
One flag that proved useful for the Buccaneers was actually the red challenge flag. Head Coach Bruce Arians put the new pass interference challenge rules to the test, when he threw the flag on a no-call during the Bucs' second offensive drive of the game. Wide receiver Mike Evans attempted a catch with cornerback Richard Sherman all over him. The Bucs ultimately won the challenge and Sherman was flagged in the end. The drive didn't end up leading to any points, though, as the offense sputtered on its first couple of drives.
The good news in all of this is that penalties are (or should be) easily corrected. The Bucs didn't get outplayed or flat out beat - they beat themselves like Dotson said. If they can be more disciplined as the season goes on, the penalties should take care of themselves, and with it - the Bucs record should improve.
2. Red zone efficiency
Though the Bucs fared better than the Niners inside the 20, it wasn't by much. Tampa Bay was just one-for-four in red zone efficiency. One particular drive saw the Bucs get down to the four-yard line before stalling. As Matt Gay lined up for the chip shot, San Francisco got called on a neutral zone infraction. It inched the Bucs closer, placing them at the two-yard line and it was then that Coach Arians decided to go for it instead of kicking the field goal.
In hindsight, taking the points on a field goal would have probably been the better option. Arians said as much after the game.
"I probably got greedy, should have taken the three point and kept it a three-point game," he said of his decision to go for it on fourth down. "But, I felt really good about our defense. If we don't make it, we're going to get I back at the 50 with a lot of time left."
"It was real tough," said running back Ronald Jones. "We'll go back and look at the film, but definitely when we get in the red zone, we have to punch it in. We don't want to kick In any situation down there."
And honestly, if it had worked out – the shift in momentum would have been huge. I liked the call then and I still like it now. San Francisco made a good play to break up that short pass to Chris Godwin, but I would never bank on that when making the initial decision. You have to believe you're going to convert. Even after the Bucs didn't, rookie linebacker Devin White almost brought down running back Matt Breida in the end zone. Turning it over that deep in your opponent's territory is worth the three-point risk when you have faith in your defense, which for the first time in what seems like a while, the Buccaneers truly do.
3. Defense is back.
That faith is well-founded given what the defense did on Sunday afternoon, especially in the first half. They shutdown 49ers star tight end George Kittle, they didn't allow red zone trips to turn into points and they got takeaways – two to be exact and one that went for a touchdown. The only touchdown and only points of the first half for Tampa Bay, so when I say the first half was all defense, it really was all defense.
"I thought the first half was outstanding," Arians said. "They were put in short fields and they got three [points] or nothing."
The 49ers were 0-3 inside the red zone. Additionally, they were just 5-13 on third down for a 38% efficiency rate. Overall, the Buccaneer defense held them to just 256 offensive yards, with only 98 total on the ground. For a team that uses a fullback and calls its fair share of running plays, that's a tremendous effort. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was just 18-27 for 166 yards and an 80.2 passer rating. Standout performances came from all levels of the defense. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves had that pick six, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett had a sack, safety Jordan Whitehead led the team with eight combined tackles and linebacker Lavonte David, freshly back from a knee procedure that kept him out most of the preseason, registered seven total tackles, including one for loss.
"As defensive players, you've got to control what you can control," David said. "Defensively, our motto is once we're out there, we are going to ball. We [are] going to do what we do, try to create three-and-outs and play physical. That is what we were trying to do the whole game. We let some plays get out, but it's something we've got to fix."
The defense waned a little bit towards the end of the game and though the time of possession between the two teams was relatively equal, like Coach Arians said earlier, the defense had their backs against the wall on more than one occasion. Take away the two pick sixes and the defense only gave up 16 points so going forward, what we're seeing from the defense is extremely encouraging.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 1 matchup against San Francisco.