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Brock Purdy threw for three touchdowns, and the Bucs squandered three late scoring opportunities as the 49ers won 27-14 Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
With New Orleans and Atlanta idle, a victory over San Francisco (7-3) would have put Tampa Bay into sole possession of first place in the NFC South. Instead, the Bucs (4-6) slipped into a tie for second with the Falcons (4-6), a full game behind the division-leading Saints (5-5).
Purdy threw touchdown passes of 4 yards to running back Christian McCaffrey, 76 to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and 3 to tight end George Kittle. The heave to Aiyuk was the longest TD pass in the NFL this season.
Purdy’s scoring pass to Kittle late in the third quarter gave San Francisco a 27-7 lead, its biggest of the game. Rachaad White’s 1-yard touchdown run minutes later brought Tampa Bay back to within 27-14.
The Bucs had a chance to pull within a score after their defense forced a three-and-out on the 49ers’ next possession, but Baker Mayfield’s pass for Mike Evans in the end zone on fourth and 4 from the San Francisco 12-yard line was broken up by cornerback Isaiah Oliver.
But the Bucs still weren’t done. After another quick defensive stop, Deven Thompkins returned a punt 51 yards, giving Tampa Bay the ball at the San Francisco 13 with 4:12 remaining.
But Cade Otton was unable to hold on to an apparent touchdown pass, and a throw for Chris Godwin deflected off the helmet of linebacker Dre Greenlaw before being intercepted in the end zone by safety Ji’Ayir Brown.
The Bucs defense gave the team yet another chance when it forced a turnover on downs at midfield with 2:13 to play.
But a Luke Goedeke holding penalty and Chase Young sack put them into a fourth-and-17 situation, and Mayfield’s Hail Mary pass was knocked down by Charvarius Ward.
Earlier, the 49ers turned a Mayfield fumble into a 37-yard Jake Moody field goal, giving them a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter. After Mayfield’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Evans made it a 3-point game, Moody put San Francisco ahead 13-7 with a 28-yard field goal just before halftime.
Mayfield finished 29-for-45 for 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Evans caught five passes for 43 yards. Otton’s 49 yards on four receptions were the most for Tampa Bay.
Purdy completed 21 of 25 passes for 333 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Aiyuk had five receptions for a game-high 156 yards and a touchdown. Kittle caught a game-high eight passes for 89 yards and a score.
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Both quarterbacks were sacked four times.
Antoine Winfield Jr. led the Bucs defense with 16 total tackles, including nine solo stops. Lavonte David had seven tackles, three for loss, before leaving the game with a groin injury. In addition to David, YaYa Diaby (2) and Vita Vea (1) also had sacks.
Here’s how it happened.
Not done yet
Trailing by three scores late in the third quarter, the Bucs wasted no time putting themselves back within striking distance.
They needed just 2:26 to drive 75 yards in five plays to pull within 13 points.
A 41-yard completion from Baker Mayfield to Rakim Jarrett to the 49ers 23-yard line was the big play.
One play later, a pass interference penalty against linebacker Fred Warner on tight end Cade Otton put the ball at the 1.
Rachaad White’s run over right guard pulled the Bucs to within 27-14 with 14:16 still to play.
The 49ers methodically moved down the field on a nine-play, 79-yard touchdown drive late in the third quarter that gave them a three-score lead.
Christian McCaffrey started things with a 12-yard run to the San Francisco 33. The Niners were at the 44 one play later, after an 11-yard pass from Brock Purdy to tight end George Kittle.
Two plays later, Purdy found a wide-open Deebo Samuel deep downfield for a 20-yard gain to the Bucs 20.
Two McCaffrey runs netted 9 yards to the 11, bringing up third and 1. McCaffrey carried again, picking up the first down on a 5-yard run over left tackle to the 6. Bucs linebacker Lavonte David was injured on the play.
The 49ers kept the ball on the ground on the next play, as McCaffrey gained 3 yards to the 3.
But they went to the air after that, and Purdy hit a wide-open Kittle in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard score and 27-7 lead with 1:42 remaining in the third quarter.
Not the worst news
The Bucs punted the ball back to the 49ers midway through the third quarter. But things could have been worse, as Baker Mayfield was nearly intercepted near midfield.
The drive was trouble from the start, as Tampa Bay began at its 10 and faced third and 11 from the 9 before Mayfield hit Mike Evans for a 13-yard gain and a first down at the 22.
Rachaad White picked up 11 more yards one play later, moving the ball to the 33.
But Chris Godwin was stopped for no gain after a short reception, and Mayfield threw incomplete for White, bringing up third and 10.
Mayfield threw deep over the middle for Evans, but his pass hit Dre Greenlaw in the hands. Fortunately, the linebacker was unable to hold on, leading to a Jake Camarda punt.
The Bucs had the 49ers pinned deep in San Francisco territory early in the third quarter ... for all the good it did them.
Starting from its 2-yard line after a 56-yard Jake Camarda punt, San Francisco moved out of the shadow of its end zone on a 21-yard pass from Brock Purdy to George Kittle to the 24.
The 49ers got a whole lot more on the next play, as Purdy hit Brandon Aiyuk deep down the left sideline for a 76-yard touchdown, the longest scoring pass in the NFL this season.
The pass was over a leaping Jamel Dean, who was down after the play and had to be helped off the field.
Jake Moody’s extra-point kick gave the 49ers a 20-7 lead, their biggest of the game, with 10:54 to play in the third quarter.
The Bucs picked up a first down on their opening possession of the second half, but that was all.
Two Rachaad White runs netted 12 yards, giving Tampa Bay a first down at its 35. After Baker Mayfield overthrew Mike Evans deep down the left sideline, the quarterback found Chris Godwin over the middle for 7 yards, setting up third and 3 from the 42.
Mayfield briefly appeared to connect with Trey Palmer down the right sideline, but cornerback Charvarius Ward managed to separate the rooke receiver from the ball, forcing a Jake Camarda punt.
There were less than 2 minutes left in the first half when the 49ers took possession at their 29-yard line, but it was enough to mount a quick field-goal drive.
A Brock Purdy pass to Brandon Aiyuk over the middle was good for 37 yards to the Bucs 34. Two plays later, Purdy connected with tight end George Kittle for 9 yards, setting up third and 3 from the 27.
Aiyuk turned a short pass over the middle into a 10-yard gain to the 17. Purdy passes of 2 yards to Christian McCaffrey and 5 to Kittle made it third and 3 from the 10 with 24 seconds to play in the half.
Purdy threw out of the end zone, bringing Jake Moody back onto the field for a field-goal attempt. Moody was accurate from 28 yards, pushing the 49ers’ lead to 13-7 with 16 seconds left in the half.
Down 10 midway through the second quarter, the Bucs needed just 5:33 to drive 75 yards in 10 plays and pull within a field goal.
An 8-yard pass from Baker Mayfield to tight end Payne Durham and 3-yard Chase Edmonds run gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Bucs 36.
A 17-yard completion to Trey Palmer moved Tampa Bay to the San Francisco 47. An offsides penalty against Nick Bosa two plays later made it second and 4 from the 41.
After Rachaad White ran 2 yards over left guard, bringing up third and 2 from the 39, Mayfield scrambled 3 yards to the 36 to pick up the first down.
Arik Armstead sacked Mayfield on the next play, pushing the Bucs back 9 yards to the 45.
No matter. Mayfield found tight end Cade Otton deep over the middle one play later for a 27-yard gain to the 18 at the two-minute warning.
Deven Thompkins then gained 17 yards around left end, taking the ball to the 1. Mayfield found Mike Evans in the back of the end zone on the following play, bringing the Bucs to within 10-7 with 1:48 remaining in the half.
It wasn’t the touchdown they were hoping for, but the 49ers turned Baker Mayfield’s early second-quarter fumble into a field goal that extended their lead to 10 points midway through the quarter.
Elijah Mitchell got things started with a 13-yard run around right end to the 48. Two more Mitchell carries netted 8 yards to midfield. Purdy picked up the first down on a 3-yard run up the middle.
A 19-yard completion to Brandon Aiyuk moved the ball to the Tampa Bay 22, but that’s where the drive stalled.
Two plays later, YaYa Diaby sacked Purdy for a loss of 8 yards, making it third and 15 from the 27. A short Purdy pass to Deebo Samuel gained 8 yards but was well short of the first-down marker.
Jake Moody’s 37-yard field goal upped the Niners’ lead to 10-0 with 7:21 to play in the second quarter.
Losing the handle
A Baker Mayfield fumble in 49ers territory short-circuited the Bucs’ promising second possession.
Tampa Bay drove 52 yards to the San Francisco 33 in nine plays before Fred Warner forced a Mayfield fumble that defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell recovered at the Niners’ 35.
Rachaad White picked up the Bucs’ first, first down of the game at the start of the drive, taking a short Mayfield pass 8 yards to the Tampa Bay 30 on third and 4.
Another White reception picked up 5 yards to the 35. An offsides penalty against linebacker Dre Greenlaw made it second and 1.
Mayfield then threw short to Chase Edmonds, who gained 11 yards to midfield. Another short toss to Edmonds resulted in a 3-yard gain to the 49ers 47 as the first quarter came to a close.
A reverse to Trey Palmer picked up 6 yards, making it third and 1 from the 41. A short completion to Palmer was good for 3 yards and a first down at the 38.
An offside penalty moved the ball forward 5 more yards to the 33, but Mayfield fumbled on the following play, giving San Francisco possession.
The 49ers drove 80 yards in 12 plays on their second possession, resulting in Christian McCaffrey’s go-ahead touchdown reception.
San Francisco started quickly, gaining 15 yards on a completion to Deebo Samuel and 5 more on a neutral zone infraction against outside linebacker YaYa Diaby, moving the ball to the Niners’ 40.
Brock Purdy was unable to connect with tight end George Kittle deep over the middle, with Carlton Davis in coverage. But McCaffrey picked up the first down on the next play, running for 8 yards to the 48.
After Vita Vea sacked Purdy for a loss of 1 and Kittle pulled in a 4-yard pass, San Francisco faced third and 7 from the Tampa Bay 49. Purdy threw short to McCaffrey, who picked up the first down with an 11-yard gain to the 38.
A 14-yard run by McCaffrey was negated by a holding penalty against Brandon Aiyuk, making it first and 14 from the 42. But Aiyuk made up for it on the next play, drawing a defensive holding penalty against Jamel Dean that gave the 49ers a first down at the Bucs 37.
Dean was down after the play and was replaced by Zyon McCollum.
Purdy went right back to Aiyuk after the stoppage in play, resulting in a 14-yard completion to the 23. McCaffrey then carried twice for 17 yards, moving the ball to the 6.
After a 2-yard McCaffrey run, Purdy hit McCaffrey out of the backfield for a 4-yard touchdown that put the 49ers ahead 7-0 with 3:55 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bucs got a helping hand to start their first drive, as a 15-yard fair catch interference penalty against George Odum gave them possession at their 37.
Baker Mayfield appeared to have Mike Evans open deep down the left sideline, but defensive back Deommodore Lenoir knocked the ball down. After Rachaad White carried for 3 yards, Tampa Bay faced third and 7 from the 40.
Mayfield overthrew Rakim Jarrett deep down the right sideline, resulting in a Jake Camarda punt.
Doing their job
The Bucs defense allowed just one first down on the 49ers’ opening possession before forcing a punt.
Brock Purdy connected with tight end George Kittle over the middle for a 24-yard gain to the San Francisco 43 on the Niners’ second play from scrimmage.
But two more Purdy passes netted only 2 yards, and Lavonte David sacked Purdy on third and 8, forcing a 49ers punt.
Bucs confident they can win tight NFC South
The Bucs’ first win in more than a month has them feeling good about their chances of rebounding from a tough stretch to win the NFC South.
Sitting at 4-5 — a half-game behind first place New Orleans in the division standings — winning the gettable division figures to be the surest path to follow as the Bucs chase a fourth consecutive playoff berth.
Tampa Bay currently holds a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the Saints (5-5) and will play four of its eight remaining games within the division.
“It’s kind of like last year. We were in first place for a while, floating around .500, and then we ended up winning (the division) at the end,” receiver Mike Evans said. “It’s a similar situation this year, but we have more time. Hopefully, we can go on a win streak and separate ourselves.”
The Bucs stopped a four-game skid with a 20-6 victory over Tennessee last Sunday, limiting the Titans to a pair of field goals and 209 yards of offense.
The victory came of the heels of the defense yielding game-winning drives in the final minute of losses in two of the previous three weeks.
While it won’t be easy, the Bucs’ chances of winning the NFC South for a third straight year are heightened by the absence of a dominant team in the division.
Atlanta (4-6) is just behind second-place Tampa Bay in the standings, while Carolina occupies the cellar at 1-8. The Bucs face the Panthers twice and Falcons and Saints once each down the stretch.
“We definitely believe we can be contenders and be a playoff team. This is a good start for us,” Evans said after beating the Titans.
“It’s a one-game-at-a-time mentality for us from here on out. Control our destiny and see where it takes us,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “We have a group that’s really focused. We know what we need to do. Now it’s just about continuing to correct (mistakes) and show up on Sundays.”
Tampa Bay begins a stretch this week in which it will play four of its next five games on the road, beginning with today’s matchup against NFC West leader San Francisco.
New Orleans and Atlanta have byes, meaning a win over the 49ers would lift the Bucs into first place. A loss would drop them into a tie for second with the Falcons, one game behind the Saints.
The Bucs won the division and hosted a playoff game last season, despite finishing with a losing record (8-9).
They also were 4-5 through nine games.
“It’s the same, but it’s different. We feel different because we’re a different team. Obviously, the record and everything is the same, but we feel like we’ll be in it right to the very end. We just have to take care of our business and get on a streak,” coach Todd Bowles said.
“November and December football are very important,” Bowles added. “This is the third quarter for us. If we can do well in the third quarter and set up the fourth quarter, we feel like we can bring it home.”
— FRED GOODALL, Associated Press
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