An indication that Tampa Bay would turn things around against San Francisco on Sunday occurred when the Buccaneers had a dramatic goal-line stand at the beginning of the second half ahead by only a touchdown.
The officials reviewed Jeff Wilson’s 9-yard run on first and goal and determined that Wilson was tackled before reaching the end zone. The 49ers still appeared to be in good shape, averaging more than seven yards per carry at that point.
But the Buccaneers’ defense clamped down, stopping San Francisco on consecutive goal-line runs. On fourth down, 49ers tight end George Kittle jumped before the snap, resulting in a penalty that prompted coach Kyle Shanahan to settle for a field goal.
Tampa Bay drove 75 yards in six plays for a touchdown on its next possession as it started to pull away to a 27-9 win.
Embattled quarterback Jameis Winston was reinserted into the lineup Sunday and completed a pivotal 34-yard pass to Mike Evans on that drive. He went 29 of 38 passing for 312 yards with two touchdowns — and most importantly, he had no interceptions or fumbles.
“That was just a methodical-type game,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said. “In the NFL, part of winning is not losing. (It’s) not beating yourself.”
Said Winston of his performance: “I just went out there and did my best to execute. Not overlook open guys, extend plays only when I needed to. Simple things like that.”
The Buccaneers built their first lead in the game since an Oct. 21 win over Cleveland.
The defense produced interceptions by Ryan Smith and Isaiah Johnson. The pass rush relentlessly pressured 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens, sacking him four times and hitting him nine other occasions. First-round pick Vita Vea came to life with his first career sack and three tackles for a loss after a meeting in the past week with general manager Jason Licht.
Cairo Santos made his two field goals and three extra points.
The highlight though was Winston’s play. His recent benching because of ineffective play may have been the boost he needed.
“I’m not sure what it took, but he did it,” Koetter said. “That’s all that matters. Jameis, he played quarterback the way you really need to play it in the NFL until you get into desperation time, which we never did today. So Jameis wasn’t perfect, but he played a damn good game. I’m proud of him. It’s been a difficult road. He sees what that looks like and he needs to consistently play like that and he can be one of the best.”
The Buccaneers improved to 4-7 with the victory, which ironically adversely affected them — when it comes to their draft status. They fell from seventh to 10th in the drafting order.
–WR Mike Evans has 1,073 yards receiving on 62 catches, and there are still five games left to play in the regular season. He’s on pace to shatter Mark Carrier’s three-decade-old team record of 1,422 yards.
–WR DeSean Jackson was targeted only eight times and caught just three passes for 19 yards. Jackson didn’t stick around for postgame handshakes. He bolted off the field faster than the officiating crew and was out of the locker room in a hurry.
–DT Vita Vea, a first-round draft pick, had the best game of his young career, recording a sack and three tackles for loss against the 49ers. “It felt really good going out there,” the defensive tackle said. “I wasn’t thinking much — going out there and just playing.”
–TE Cameron Brate had a touchdown reception against San Francisco, giving him four this season and 21 in his five-year career. That ranks as the ninth-most in franchise history. He has 18 touchdown receptions since the start of 2016, which is the second-most in the league for tight ends, trailing only Travis Kelce (19) of Kansas City.
–DE Jason Pierre-Paul recorded a sack Sunday, giving him 10.5 this season. He is the first Tampa Bay player to reach 10 sacks or more since Simeon Rice had 14 in 2005.