Coming off a big victory over the Seahawks last week, the 49ers knew it would be easy to trip and fall.
“This game, for us and all intents and purposes, is just as important as last week’s was,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said this week, leading into Sunday’s game in Tampa, Fla., against the Bucs. “With the division title realistically not in the picture, all these games weigh the same.”
With that in the mind, the 49ers took care of business, sidestepping a potential "trap game" and beating the host Bucs 33-14 for their fourth straight victory to improve to 10-4 and maintain their position as the potential No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs.
With two games remaining in the regular season, the 49ers would stay tied with the Panthers for best record among wild-card contenders, if Carolina wins Sunday afternoon vs. the Jets. The Panthers hold the tiebreaker, however, because of their victory over the 49ers earlier this season. The 49ers would lock up a playoff spot with losses by the Cardinals and either the Eagles or Cowboys Sunday afternoon.
The 49ers took a 17-0 lead late in the second half Sunday on two Colin Kaepernick touchdown passes (to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis) and seemed to be in command. But Tampa Bay climbed back into the game with a Mike Glennon-to-Vincent Jackson touchdown pass just before halftime, then pulled within 20-14 early in the fourth quarter on Glennon’s 24-yard TD toss to Tim Wright.
That’s when the game turned back toward the 49ers.
First, San Francisco put together a clock-eating, 17-yard drive that produced a 21-yard field goal by Phil Dawson to give San Francisco a two-score lead at 23-14. The drive was kept alive by a big Kaepernick-to-Crabtree third-down completion and a Kaepernick scramble on another third-down play. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, the Bucs mishandled an attempted reverse on the return. The ball bounced to Kendall Hunter, playing special teams, who picked it up and fell into the end zone to put the 49ers up 30-14.
With less than a minute remaining, the 49ers tacked on another Dawson field goal – his fourth of the game and 24th straight – for the final margin of victory.
The Niners’ defense again was outstanding, limiting Tampa Bay to just 183 total yards. And San Francisco’s offense continued the momentum it got rolling in previous consecutive victories over the Rams, Redskins and Seahawks, putting up 376total yards.
Frank Gore rushed for 86 yards and reached the 1,000-yard mark in his career for the seventh time, and Kaepernick (39 yards), Hunter (40) and LaMichael James (22) also contributed on the ground.
Kaeprnick also was efficient – keeping the ball away from the top ball-hawking secondary in the NFL – completing 19-of-29 throws for 203 yards, two TDs and no interceptions. Tight end Vernon Daivs had a 52-yard TD catch among his five receptions for 79 yards.
The 49ers resume action on Monday night, Dec. 23, at home against the Atlanta Falcons.