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Instant analysis: Bucs fall behind early, rally big to pound 49ers 34-17

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Russell Shepard (89) makes a touchdown catch during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Russell Shepard (89) makes a touchdown catch during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Oct. 23, 2016

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Hey, ho, what do you know, the Bucs are back to .500.

After losing three straight, the Bucs rallied to win their second in a row with a solid 34-17 victory Sunday over the 49ers. And they are now 3-3 and very much in contention in the NFC South. What's even more interesting is Tampa Bay has collected all three wins on the road.

The Bucs now need to figure out how to win at home, where they are 0-2. The next three are at home, and it's a great opportunity to make a big-time move into playoff position heading down the second half.

Here are a few instant thoughts from the victory:

• The Bucs came awfully close to getting run out of Levi's Stadium before the game was a quarter old. They slipped behind by two quick touchdowns, so this game could have gotten ugly in a hurry. Instead, the Bucs settled down, particularly on defense, and rallied.

• The second 49ers touchdown, the one that gave San Francisco a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter, was all on Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. His awful throw behind wide receiver Mike Evans turned into a 49ers interception that was returned deep into Tampa Bay territory. One play later, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to running back Shaun Draughn. Just another example of Winston's consistent inconsistency.

• What a two-minute drive to conclude the first half for the Bucs, especially by Winston and wide receiver Russell Shepard. First, Shepard kept the drive alive early with a third-down, one-handed catch for a first down. Then he capped off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown catch on a strong throw by Winston. The crisp drive went 77 yards in eight plays and took 1:46. And it gave Tampa Bay its first lead of the game at 17-14.

• A critical moment in the second quarter could have cost the Bucs points. Here's what happened: The Bucs ran a third-and-4 play inside the San Francisco 10 that picked up 3 yards, leaving them facing a fourth and 1. It looked as if coach Dirk Koetter was set to go for it, but then a penalty flag hit the ground. Winston was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for, apparently, mouthing off to an official. Now, who knows what was said and whether or not Winston deserved a penalty. But, having seen every single play of Winston's NFL career and a big chunk of his college career at Florida State, I never saw any issues with an official. Just asking, but I'm guessing Tom Brady or Drew Brees get away with chewing out a referee from time to time without worrying about a flag.

• The 49ers turned in a Bad News Bears play to start the second half and give the Bucs points. Two 49ers collided while trying to field a Tampa Bay punt and the result was a muff recovered by the Bucs' Keith Tandy. With the ball at the San Francisco 36, the Bucs could have really put the heat on the 49ers with a touchdown but instead had to settle for a 36-yard field goal from Roberto Aguayo and a 20-14 lead.

• Bucs' sack of the year? So far, it goes to Jude Adjei-Barimah. The blitzing cornerback blew up Kaepernick midway through the third quarter and forced a fumble recovered by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. A few moments later, Winston connected with Evans for a 5-yard scoring strike. Cool play, too. As Winston was scrambling, looking for an open receiver, a well-covered Evans pointed to the sky, signaling for Winston to throw it up over Evans' head. Winston did and Evans made a jumping catch to stake Tampa Bay to a 27-14 lead.

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• How many receivers in the game are better than Evans? Not too many. The Bucs were without wide receiver Vincent Jackson, meaning the 49ers could gang up on Evans. And the Bucs receiver still carved them up. This guy is putting up huge numbers, and he's only 23 years old. And he has dropped his drops from a season ago. Scary.

• Another career day for running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Who knows if he can play like that week after week, but with Doug Martin coming back soon from injury (you would assume), Rodgers certainly has filled in nicely when the Bucs needed him.

• I was about to say it was a good day for Aguayo, the kind of day that makes you see why the team spent a second-round pick on him. But then he totally shanked a 50-yarder that just looked, uh, weird. Left it short and kicked it very wide right. Just was … weird. But he was good otherwise.