By Sam McPherson
The San Francisco 49ers got off to a promising start on Sunday at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but before the day was out, that promise had disappeared into the setting sun of the West Coast. The Bucs outscored their hosts, 34-3, the rest of the way as they cruised to a 34-17 victory at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the site of Super Bowl 50 last February.
After taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, the 49ers looked like maybe they’d be able to earn their second win of the 2016 season. However, the defense collapsed and ended up allowing a whopping 513 yards of offense to Tampa Bay. Toss in three turnovers by the San Francisco offense, and this was not a prime recipe for winning in the NFL.
The 49ers gained only 273 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times (two fumbles, one interception). Quarterback Colin Kaepernick again struggled with his accuracy, completing just 16 of 34 passes. While he did run for 84 yards, Kaepernick also was sacked four times totaling 30 yards, and he fumbled twice (losing one of them). Overall, the S.F. offense averaged just 4.1 yards per play.
Three different running backs combined for 76 yards on 19 carries, which was effective enough when adding in the QB runs. But the passing game’s inability to move the ball much really hurt the 49ers repeatedly throughout the afternoon. No receiver totaled more than 37 yards through the air in this game, and that falls right on Kaepernick’s struggles to throw the ball effectively.
As noted above, giving up 513 yards doesn’t usually get you a victory in the NFL. The Tampa Bay offense averaged 7.0 yards per play and ran for 249 yards on the ground. Those numbers just demonstrate how little talent the 49ers have on the defensive side of the ball after all the injuries have taken their toll on the roster.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston completed 70 percent of this throws, and even though he did toss one interception while getting sacked twice, he really had his way with the 49ers defense for most of the afternoon. While the running game averaged 6.1 yards per carry, Winston managed to gain 8.1 yards per attempt himself. It was just a long afternoon for the S.F. defense: They were on the field for almost 34 minutes of game time.
Special Teams: C+
It was a bad day for the special teams unit, simply because after the defense came out of halftime with a big stop trailing 17-14, punt returner Aaron Burbridge muffed the return. The Bucs were able to add a field goal there and take some life out of the 49ers’ attempt at a comeback. That stung. Otherwise, it was a relatively ho-hum day for S.F.’s special teams.
Punter Bradley Pinion didn’t even average 40 yards per punt, though, and that hurts a team like the 49ers in terms of the field-position game, obviously. Kicker Phil Dawson was perfect on all his kicks, and outside of Burbridge’s fumble, San Francisco got exactly one kickoff return for 18 yards despite all the Tampa Bay scores.
With the team trailing by 13 points in the fourth quarter, it was nice to see head coach Chip Kelly go for it on fourth down. His faith was rewarded by a Kaepernick run for the first down that helped the drive result in a Dawson field goal. It’s clear Kelly is working with a depleted roster here, so it’s hard to hold him accountable for certain aspects of the game right now.
The team only committed four penalties, and that’s a good sign. What Kelly needs to do now is make the most of what he has on the roster and hope that the front office truly finds him a real QB in the next draft. Until then, this is what the 49ers are working with right now, and it’s not going to look good despite everything Kelly tries to do.
San Francisco has a bye next week, and that can help with some of the injuries on defense, of course. There are not a lot of winnable games for the 49ers in the second half of the season, however. Right away, they play New Orleans, Arizona and New England out of the bye, and those are offenses that will give the S.F. defense even worse fits than the Tampa Bay offense just did.
The only semi-winnable games left on the schedule appear to be at Miami (November 27), at Chicago (December 4) and home against the New York Jets (December 11). Otherwise, there are just too many good teams left on the 49ers’ schedule to truly project them winning more than four games total. The Faithful will be tested once again in 2016.