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Jameis Winston’s third interception dooms Bucs in Arians’ debut

49ers 31, Bucs 17: San Francisco returns Winston’s third interception for the touchdown that sealed the Bucs’ fate.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon III Hargreaves (28) runs into the end zone after intercepting San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) for his first pick six during second quarter action at Raymond James Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Tampa, FL. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sep. 8
Updated Sep. 9

TAMPA — The scene was set for Jameis Winston to write a new narrative. He had the ball, down six with 2:17 to play and the chance to make new Bucs coach Bruce Arians a winner Sunday in his debut.

But the ending to this story is a familiar one that has plagued Winston throughout his NFL career.

San Francisco’s Ahkello Witherspoon returned Winston’s third interception of the afternoon 25 yards for a touchdown to seal the 49ers 31-17 victory at Raymond James Stadium.

The interception, which came one play after Robbie Gould’s 47-yard field gave San Francisco a 23-17, dropped Winston’s QB rating on the day to 42.3.

Gay kicks makes his first NFL field goal

Update: 4:47 in the fourth quarter

Matt Gay makes field goals, even ones the Bucs’ won’t accept.

Gay’s 31-yard field goal capped a drive highlighted by Ronald Jones runs to pull the Bucs within three points. On the previous possession, the Bucs drove deep into 49ers territory for a Gay field goal that they took off the scoreboard when the 49ers jumped offsides on the play.

Some could say that was a mistake, and that coach Bruce Arians cost himself a chance to be tied. They would be wrong.

Yes, Winston’s fourth-and-2 pass was nearly intercepted at the goal line and the Bucs turned the ball over on downs. But the Bucs’ flipped field position in their favor. The first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter was played on the Bucs’ end of the field.

And that led to Gay's field goal.

Did we mention the Bucs made a field goal?

MORE BUCS: Who’s to blame on Jameis’ two interceptions?

Coming out throwing in the second half

TAMPA — There for about 15 seconds it felt like a penalty was about to nullify a touchdown for the sixth time Sunday afternoon.

Instead, Jameis Winston’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin stood. The flag was on the 49ers and the Bucs’ had reversed what had to that point been a dreadful start to the second half.

San Francisco’s 20-14 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter was built on Jimmy Garoppolo throwing deep, and Winston overthrowing.

Richard Sherman intercepted Winston’s errant pass for Peyton Barber and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown and 20-7 San Francisco lead early in the third quarter of Sunday’s season opener.

The Bucs’ 7-6 halftime lead disappeared quickly. On opening Garoppolo’s deep shot drew a pass-interference call on Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis. The next one beat M.J. Stewart for a touchdown.

Garoppolo’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Richie James Jr. as he ran past Stewart put the 49ers up 13-8 at 12:31 in the third quarter. The score came two plays after an obvious pass interference call on Davis to keep Kendrick Bourne from beating him for a touchdown.

MORE BUCS: O.J. Howard loses his grip, again

Vernon Hargreaves’ moment

The Bucs have been waiting for something like this since they drafted Vernon Hargreaves with the 11th pick overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Hargreaves intercepted a Garoppolo pass intended for Tevin Coleman and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown. Hargreaves’ first pick-six of his NFL career had the Bucs’ leading the San Francisco 49ers, 7-6, at halftime Sunday.

MORE BUC: Kwon Alexander’s return ends with ejection

It was only the second interception of the University of Florida and Wharton High graduate’s NFL career. Times columnist Martin Fennelly wrote here about Hargreaves’ unspectacular career thus far.

You don’t see this every day

Cameron Brate scored two touchdowns on the same second-quarter drive, and both were nullified by Buccaneers’ penalties.

To make matters worse, Tampa Bay lost a chance at a game-tying field goal when O.J. Howard fumbled on a third-down reception at the San Francisco 8.

Yet, as of late in the second quarter, the 49ers held a 3-2 lead — in touchdowns nullified by penalty.

Kwon Alexander wasn’t welcomed back

Former Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander’s return to Tampa Bay didn’t last long. Alexander, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent in the offseason, was ejected late in the first quarter after being flagged for a personal foul for lowering his helmet on a hit on Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.

The call provided the Bucs’ with their first real momentum of the quarter, which they ended trailing 3-0.

The Arians era gets off to a rough start

The first two drives of the Bruce Arians era were a little rough, folks.

A blocked punt led to San Francisco’s 3-0 lead minutes into the game. Then Winston’s third-and-long pass around midfield right to Kwon Alexander. Yes, that Kwon Alexander.

Kwon dropped it, which was about the only positive to that point. Most concerning: Winston’s 1-of-6 passing.

At least the defense held early

Robbie Gould’s 29-yard field goal provided the first points of the season at Raymond James Stadium, and for the San Francisco 49ers on their first drive Sunday.

Mark Nzeocha blocked Bradley Pinion’s first put as a Buccaneer, setting the 49ers up in prime field position.

The Bucs defense held with the help of a pass interference call against 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk to nullify George Kittle’s 8-yard touchdown reception.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber (25) on the field during warmups before the Bucs game against the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Tampa, FL. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Pregame notes

Bruce Arians’ debut as the Buccaneers head coach finally arrives today at Raymond James Stadium with one major question: Can he bring out the best in Jameis Winston?

The 49ers present a stiff challenge. Their strong pass rush from 2018 has been bolstered by the No. 2 overall draft pick and a prime free-agent signing. Arians’ insistence that Winston will have to make quicker decisions and a quicker release will be reinforced.

The Bucs, however, couldn’t be much more prepared, at least when it comes to health. A couple hours before kickoff, news arrived that their best player Mike Evans and rookie starting inside linebacker Devin White are over the flu enough to play today.

Pregame reads

Given this week’s Antonio Brown saga, Bucs fans can take comfort in what Mike Evans stands for (Rick Stroud)

Jameis Winston’s success this season could be measured in split seconds (Eduardo A. Encina)

Taking a measured approach to Bucs defensive expectations (John Romano)

Vernon Hargreaves, the last 2016 pick starting (Martin Fennelly)

Happy 44th, Bucs. Here’s 44 things to know about Tampa Bay vs. San Francisco (Bassinger).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman William Gholston (92) fist bumps Kamden Sanders, 5, of Lutz, before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

DeSean Jackson had himself a day

Maybe this will seem familiar. Former Buc deep threat DeSean Jackson made himself (back) at home in the Eagles’ 32-27 win over Washington with eight catches on 10 targets for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

Oh, and this.

Contact Mike Sherman at msherman@tampabay.com. Follow @mikesherman

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