Bucs scenes: Third-down futility, defensive struggles, Wright shines

Facing a San Francisco offense that likes to load up on tight ends and blocking backs, the Bucs played in their base defense as much Sunday as they have all year, and that meant a career day for LB Dekoda Watson. Watson, who typically does not play in a nickel defense with five defensive backs, had a game-high 12 tackles, resetting the career high he set two years ago against the same 49ers offense with seven tackles in 2011. The fourth-year pro from Florida State, an unrestricted free agent after the season, said the Bucs knew they had to contain the 49ers' running game but couldn't do enough defensively to keep the score close. "We already expected for it to be a physical game," he said. "There's a lot of things that we could have corrected, a lot of things we controlled and didn't take advantage of, a lot of mistakes on our part. The Niners definitely took advantage of it, and it cost us in the end." Three weeks ago, Watson had been shifted to defensive end to help spark the outside pass rush, but he has been firmly back at outside linebacker since Jonathan Casillas sustained a season-ending knee injury. The Bucs struggled to contain 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, but Watson was a big part of that effort. "Definitely a smart quarterback. He can see things, he can throw, he can run," Watson said. "They have a great run offense, and they have a lot of weapons. They definitely utilized it."

The Bucs went into Sunday's game leading the league in interceptions and takeaways, but Tampa Bay's only interception was negated by a penalty. On the opening drive of the third quarter, Bucs LB Lavonte David appeared to make a big play. QB Colin Kaepernick threw a sideline pass to TE Vernon Davis, who had the ball slip away and into the hands of David, who had fallen trying to make a tackle. David caught the ball, got up and went 69 yards down the sideline for a would-be touchdown. But a penalty flag was on the field before the ball was thrown: DT Gerald McCoy had jumped offside, wiping out the play. "It kind of popped out," David said of the interception. "I was sliding for it, then I got up and (teammates) were telling me to run. I didn't hear a whistle, so I just ran with it. Come to find out there was a penalty anyway." The play turned scary when David went down on his way back to the bench, but it was only cramps. He worked the cramps out with trainers and returned in the third quarter. David finished with 10 tackles and forced a fumble, which bounced harmlessly out of bounds. And the Bucs finished out of the league lead for interceptions, surpassed by the Seahawks.

. A big part of both touchdown drives in the Bucs' loss to the 49ers was undrafted rookie TE Tim Wright, who continues to be a favorite target of fellow rookie Mike Glennon. Wright had five of his seven catches on those two drives, including a 26-yard catch to set up the team's first score and a 24-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. "The hard work I put in in the offseason that no one else sees, it shows on game days and shows on Sundays, so I'm glad," said Wright, who had a game-high seven catches for 82 yards. Wright set a team record for a touchdown catches by a rookie tight end, surpassing Calvin Magee's three in 1985. He's among the league's top rookie tight ends, tied for the league lead in receptions (45) with Washington's Jordan Reed, and his 486 receiving yards are 13 behind Reed. One rookie tight end has more touchdowns— Detroit's Joseph Fauria, six.

Wright, a Rutgers graduate, was wide open on his touchdown, running down the right side and then breaking toward the corner of the end zone, where Glennon dropped in a pass that cut San Francisco's lead to 20-14 with 14:50 remaining. "It's a play we practiced all week, and everybody did their job on the play," Wright said. "The line held up, other guys ran their routes well, I ran my route well, Glennon delivered and we scored."

Third-down failures continue to plague Bucs

. The Bucs' recent struggles on third downs continued. They converted 1 of 10, the conversion coming on a third-and-1 pass late in the third quarter. Despite putting itself in position for more manageable third downs, Tampa Bay missed on every other opportunity, as well as two fourth-down attempts. QB Mike Glennon completed 3 of 8 third-down passes for 20 yards, 8 coming on the conversion to WR Chris Owusu. On three third-and-7 plays, he missed twice and threw for a 5-yard gain, and he also missed on a third and 4 and was sacked on a third and 3. The Bucs never attempted a third-down run. "They have great players, and when we were in those third-down situations, I just went through my progression," Glennon said. "With the style of defense they play, we just had to get completions and kind of play that kind of game. We knew it was going to be tough to throw down the field." The Bucs entered ranked 31st in the league in third-down conversions with a 24 percent success rate in the previous five games. Tampa Bay had 50 total offensive plays, its third time in four games with 50 or fewer, as San Francisco dominated in time of possession, 39:50 to 20:10. It was the Bucs' worst time of possession since 16:22 against the Giants on Sept. 27, 2009, a 24-0 loss to the Giants. "We've got to execute on those critical downs," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.

For a change, Leavitt's team tops Schiano's

. Former USF coach Jim Leavitt returned to Raymond James Stadium for the first time in four years on Sunday, and the 49ers assistant left with his first win against Bucs coach Greg Schiano since 2005. Leavitt's inside linebackers had a busy day — Patrick Willis had a game-high six tackles and a sack, and NaVorro Bowman had four tackles and a tackle for loss, helping limit the Bucs to 183 yards. Leavitt, who coached USF from 1997-2009, shook hands with Schiano after the game. The two former Big East head coaches share quite a history against each other. Schiano's Rutgers teams were a perennial problem for Leavitt's Bulls teams. The Scarlet Knights beat the Bulls when USF was No. 2 in the nation in 2007 and routed USF 49-16 and 31-0 the following years. Leavitt won at Rutgers the first time USF played there, 45-31 on Nov. 5, 2005. Sunday was Leavitt's first time coaching at Raymond James Stadium since USF fired him after the 2009 season, accusing him of slapping a player during halftime of a game. Leavitt, a Dixie Hollins graduate, won a $2.75 million settlement from the university and is now in his third season with the 49ers. He wasn't available for comment after the game.

The Bucs had just allowed a demoralizing 17-play drive that took 10:27 and allowed the 49ers to increase their lead to 23-14. What followed was much quicker and more painful. With 4:27 to play, Bucs returner Eric Page brought out the kickoff from deep in the end zone, then handed off to teammate Russell Shepard on a reverse toward the right side of the field. The handoff was botched and Shepard went down, with San Francisco's Kendall Hunter recovering the fumble and diving into the end zone for a touchdown and a 30-14 lead. "It was a called play," coach Greg Schiano said. "We were going to run a reverse if the opportunity presented itself the right way. It didn't, yet we still ran it, but it's okay. We made a mistake. Guys make mistakes sometimes." Shepard, who has been a standout on special teams this season, took the blame, saying, "I need to secure it" and noting that the team had practiced the play extensively. Schiano had said the play could have been aborted if players had not seen the right fit from San Francisco's coverage, but Shepard said he would have to look at video to know whether that should have been done. Page, the primary returner all season, said the exchange had to be just right and the Bucs missed on it, despite their preparation and confidence the play would be there. "We've been working on that play for a few weeks, but it just wasn't executed right," Page said. "It just didn't work the way we thought it would work. Obviously there was a handoff issue."

. A big part of both touchdown drives in the Bucs' loss Sunday to the 49ers was undrafted rookie TE Tim Wright, who continues to be a favorite target of fellow rookie Mike Glennon. Wright had five of his seven catches on those two drives, including a 26-yard catch to set up the Bucs' first score and a 24-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. "The hard work I put in in the offseason that no one else sees, it shows on game days and shows on Sundays, so I'm glad," said Wright, who had a game-high seven catches for 82 yards. Wright set a Bucs record for a rookie tight end touchdown catches, surpassing Calvin Magee's three in 1985. He's among the league's top rookie tight ends, tied for the league lead in receptions (45) with Washington's Jordan Reed, and his 486 receiving yards are 13 behind Reed. One rookie tight end has more touchdowns— Detroit's Joseph Fauria, six.

Wright, a Rutgers graduate, was wide-open on his touchdown, running down the right side and then breaking toward the corner of the end zone, where Glennon dropped in a pass that cut San Francisco's lead to 20-14 with 14:50 remaining. "It's a play we practiced all week and everybody did their job on the play," Wright said. "The line held up, other guys ran their routes well, I ran my route well, Glennon delivered and we scored."

The Bucs went into Sunday's game leading the NFL in interceptions and takeaways, but Tampa Bay's only interception was negated by penalty. On the opening drive of the third quarter, it looked to be another big play by Bucs LB Lavonte David. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick threw a sideline pass to TE Vernon Davis, who had the ball slip away and into the hands of David, who was on his back on the ground trying to make a tackle. David caught the ball, got up and went 69 yards down the sideline for a would-be touchdown. But a penalty flag was on the field before the ball was thrown: DT Gerald McCoy had jumped offside, wiping out the play. "It kind of popped out," David said of the interception. "I was sliding for it, then I got up and (teammates) were telling me to run. I didn't hear a whistle so I just ran with it. Come to find out there was a penalty anyway." The play turned scary when David went down on his way back to the bench, but it was only cramps. He worked the cramps out with trainers and returned in the third quarter. David finished with 10 tackles and forced a fumble, which bounced harmlessly out of bounds.

Third-down failures continue to plague Bucs

. The Bucs' recent struggles on third downs continued Sunday. They converted 1 of 10, the conversion coming on a third-and-1 pass late in the third quarter. Despite putting itself in position for more manageable third downs, Tampa Bay missed on every other opportunity, as well as two fourth-down attempts. QB Mike Glennon completed 3 of 8 third-down passes for 20 yards, 8 coming on the conversion to WR Chris Owusu. On three third-and-7 plays, he missed twice and threw for a 5-yard gain, and he also missed on a third-and-4 and was sacked on a third-and-3. The Bucs never attempted a third-down run. "They have great players, and when we were in those third-down situations, I just went through my progression," Glennon said. "With the style of defense they play, we just had to get completions and kind of play that kind of game. We knew it was going to be tough to throw the ball down the field." The Bucs entered the game ranked 31st in the NFL in third-down conversions with a 24 percent success rate in the previous five games. Because it couldn't sustain its drives, Tampa Bay had just 50 total offensive plays, its third time in four games with 50 or fewer. San Francisco dominated in time of possession, 39:50 to 20:10. "We've got to execute on those critical downs," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.

The Bucs had just allowed a demoralizing 17-play drive that took 10:27 and allowed San Francisco to increase its lead to 23-14. What followed was much quicker and more painful. With 4:27 to play, Bucs returner Eric Page brought out the kickoff from deep in the end zone, then handed off to WR Russell Shepard on a reverse toward the right side of the field. The handoff was botched and Shepard went down, with San Francisco's Kendall Hunter recovering the fumble and diving into the end zone for a touchdown and a 30-14 lead. "It was a called play," coach Greg Schiano said. "We were going to run a reverse if the opportunity presented itself the right way. It didn't, yet we still ran it, but it's okay. We made a mistake. Guys make mistakes sometimes." Shepard, who has been a standout on special teams this season, took the blame saying "I need to secure it" and noting that the team had practiced the play extensively. Schiano had said the play could have been aborted if players had not seen the right fit from San Francisco's coverage, but Shepard said he would have to look at video to know whether that should have been done. Page, the primary returner all season, said the exchange had to be just right and the Bucs missed on that, despite their preparation and confidence the play would be there. "We've been working on that play for a few weeks, but it just wasn't executed right," Page said. "It just didn't work the way we thought it would work. Obviously there was a handoff issue."

Headhere

. Former USF head coach Jim Leavitt returned to Raymond James Stadium for the first time in four years on Sunday, and the 49ers assistant left with his first win against Greg Schiano since 2005. Leavitt's inside linebackers had a busy day — Patrick Willis had a game-high six tackles and a sack, and NaVorro Bowman had four tackles and a tackle for loss, helping limit the Bucs to 183 yards of total offense. Leavitt, who coached at USF from 1997-2009, shook hands with Schiano after the game. The two former Big East coaches share quite a history against each other. Schiano's Rutgers teams were a perennial problem for Leavitt's Bulls teams. The Scarlet Knights beat the Bulls when USF was No. 2 in the nation in 2007, and routed USF 49-16 and 31-0 the following years. Leavitt won at Rutgers the first time USF played there. Sunday was Leavitt's first time coaching at Raymond James Stadium since USF fired him after the 2009 season, accusing him of slapping a player during halftime of a game. The Dixie Hollins graduate won a $2.75 million settlement from the university and is now in his third season with the 49ers.

Bucs scenes: Third-down futility, defensive struggles, Wright shines 12/15/13 [Last modified: Sunday, December 15, 2013 10:25pm]

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