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Buccaneers vs. 49ers Recap: A disappointing start

Tampa Bay kicked off its 2019 season with a deflating 31-17 home loss that saw Jameis Winston throw three interceptions.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers kicked off their much-anticipated 2019 regular season campaign Sunday afternoon, hosting the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium. With a 4:25 p.m. kick, players, coaches and fans all had to wait through the 1:00 games before getting things started.

Tampa Bay, under new head coach Bruce Arians, entered Week 1 with some considerable questions to answer. Would the offensive line be able to hold up against a tough front seven right off the bat? How would the new defensive scheme play out against Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers? Would Jameis Winston get his crucial season off to a nice start?

The Bucs, in their red jerseys and pewter pants, won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. The Tampa Bay offense quickly went three-and-out before a blocked Bradley Pinion punt set San Francisco up at the 33-yard line. The Buccaneer defense, to its credit, only yielded three points. After an offensive pass interference call backed the 49ers up to the 18, the defense held the visitors to a 29-yard field goal by Robbie Gould. Nonetheless, it was an early 3-0 lead for the 49ers.

After another punt by Pinion, the Tampa Bay defense came up with another impressive stop. Vita Vea stopped a screen pass to force 3rd & 1, then Ndamukong Suh pushed through the line for a tackle in the backfield. On the next possession, the Bucs got moving.

Things picked up when Jameis Winston evaded Nick Bosa in the backfield — making him look silly in the process — and then hit Mike Evans for a 16-yard gain. A few plays later, Winston scrambled for a first down and got hit high as he slid by none other than former Buc Kwon Alexander. The (very) illegal hit resulted in a 15-yard penalty and an ejection for Alexander. You read that right. In his return to Tampa, Kwon Alexander didn’t last one full quarter.

The drive continued to look promising for the Bucs, but it ended in disaster. After TWO Cameron Brate touchdown catches were called back due to TWO holding calls on Demar Dotson, O.J. Howard fumbled the ball away at the 8-yard line. No points for the Bucs.

The Buccaneer defense responded in a big way, picking up the struggling offense by finding the end zone on its own. Vernon Hargreaves III jumped a Jimmy Garoppolo pass perfectly and returned it 15 yards for a pick six. Matt Gay’s first career regular season extra point gave Tampa Bay a 7-3 lead with 8:41 to go in the first half.

San Francisco bounced back on its next drive, but penalties continued to prevail. The ‘Niners had two touchdowns of their own called back due to penalties — a hold and an illegal formation — before settling for a 36-yard field goal by Gould. With 2:55 left in the first half, the Bucs still had a one-point lead.

However, the Tampa Bay offense continued to shoot itself in the foot. On the next drive, Winston was intercepted on a pass that hit Howard directly in the hands, giving the 49ers possession at the 29-yard line. After a first down, Todd Bowles’ defense stepped up again. Shaquil Barrett got into the backfield untouched and sacked Garoppolo for a loss of nine.

Then, a stop for no gain by Lavonte David set up third and long. Rookie Devin White followed by forcing a fumble that was recovered by Carlton Davis, sending the game to halftime with the Bucs still leading 7-6.

The second half started on a rougher note for the Tampa Bay defense. After getting to third down, Carlton Davis was called for pass interference, which gave San Francisco a first down in Bucs territory. Shortly after, Garoppolo hit Richie James Jr. for a 39-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 13-7 lead.

On the second play of Tampa Bay’s next drive, Winston looked to Peyton Barber on a hitch route, which led to a 25-yard pick six for Richard Sherman. With the 49ers suddenly leading 20-7, things looked pretty bleak for the Bucs.

But when the offense needed a big drive, it got one. The unit went 75 yards in 11 plays, chewing up 6:01 on a drive that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Chris Godwin. The San Francisco lead was down to 20-14, but the pressure was back on the defense once again.

After the 49er offense moved into Tampa Bay territory, the defense forced a field goal try. Gould’s 57-yard attempt hit the cross bar, bounced up and fell to the ground to keep the deficit at six.

With good field position, the Bucs went to the ground game. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich turned to Ronald Jones, who made good use of his carries. After a couple of first downs, Tampa Bay went play action and Winston found Howard for a first down to the 9-yard line as the third quarter ended.

Knocking on the door early in the fourth, the Bucs came up empty. After a San Francisco penalty on a field goal attempt moved the ball up to the two, Arians sent the offense back out to go for it. No risk it, no biscuit. Winston briefly had Godwin open, but Tarvarius Moore came up and knocked the ball away.

The poor field position for Garoppolo and the ‘Niners offense — combined with more penalty shenanigans — contributed to the Bucs getting another big defensive stop. Jordan Whitehead and Devin White both made big plays to force a punt from the back of the end zone. That punt went 37 yards to give the Bucs great field position, which they somewhat took advantage of. More strong running by Jones got them inside the 10, but they had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Matt Gay. With just under five minutes to go, Tampa Bay trailed by three and turned it over to its defense.

The defense allowed a field goal, which kept the Bucs within a touchdown. Winston and the offense started their drive at the 21-yard line, but there were no heroics. None at all. On first down, Winston felt the pressure and made one of those bad decisions he’s been known for in the NFL. His pass was easily intercepted and returned for another pick six. After a two-point conversion, San Francisco led 31-17.

The Bucs moved the ball on the next possession, but turned it over on downs around midfield. A couple of kneeldowns later, the 49ers closed out the 31-17 victory.

Quick Stats and Notes

  • The Tampa Bay defense held San Francisco to 131 yards in the first half, with only 36 yards on the ground. Overall, the 49ers finished with 256 total yards, rushing for 98.
  • However, the Buccaneer offense only totaled 100 yards in the first two quarters and turned the ball over twice.
  • Penalties were a big story all day. The 49ers finished with 11 for 87 yards, while the Bucs had eight for 87.
  • Tampa Bay went for just 295 total yards, but did break 100 rushing yards (121).
  • Jameis Winston finished with 194 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions on 20-of-36 passing. Late in the fourth quarter, he became the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards.
  • Ronald Jones had a good 2019 debut, rushing for 75 yards on 13 carries while catching one pass for 18 yards.
  • Chris Godwin was the Bucs’ leading receiver, hauling in three passes for 53 yards and a score.
  • Jordan Whitehead finished as the leading tackler with eight (seven solo).
  • Lavonte David totaled seven tackles (six solo), with one for a loss.
  • Shaquil Barrett finished with the Bucs’ lone sack of the afternoon.
  • In his NFL regular season debut, Matt Gay finished 1-of-1 on field goals and 2-of-2 on extra points.

The Buccaneers (0-1) now face a short week, as they will head up to Charlotte for a Thursday Night Football matchup with the Carolina Panthers (0-1). Kickoff is set for 8:20 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium.