49ers trounced by Tampa Bay for sixth-straight time

Death, taxes and a full-scale collapse by the San Francisco 49ers.

It has become an unfortunate mantra for the struggling 49ers, who dropped their sixth-straight game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in a 34-17 trouncing at Levi’s Stadium.

San Francisco looked poised to turn the tables on their recent misfortunes, using a blend of efficient offense and tough defense to jump out to a 14-0 advantage by the end of the first quarter.

But the uncommon outburst would only set up an all-too-familiar fall, as the Buccaneers would regroup for 27 unanswered to drop the 49ers in what was an otherwise winnable game against a battered Tampa Bay unit.

Without the aid of their star offensive player in Carlos Hyde, the 49ers were forced to rely on quarterback Colin Kaepernick perhaps more than they were comfortable with during his second start of the year.

The fifth-year veteran turned in another uninspiring performance, with an interception, poor reads and a lost fumble overshadowing a promising opening drive from the former star.

It was a script that was all too familiar for the team.

San Francisco has moments of lucidity, such as Sunday’s opening drive, where they look removed from the characteristics of one of the worst teams in the NFL. But reality usually crashes in on them shortly after, resulting in an outfit that operates exactly like a 1-6 team.

On Sunday, head coach Chip Kelly labeled a trio of reasons as the culprit

“I think sometimes the protection broke down for [Kaepernick],we had a couple drops in there that would have sustained some drives, and then there were some times where I think [Kaepernick] missed some throws also. So it’s a combination of protection, drops and not putting the ball where it needs to be.”

Kaepernick finished the day with just 143 yards on 16-of-34 completions for one touchdown. He did most of his damage with his legs, chewing up 84 yards on nine carries as the team’s leading rusher.

Sunday marks the second consecutive game Kaepernick has failed to eclipse the 200 yard passing mark, an unflattering feat that the veteran quarterback knows isn’t offering aide to his struggling offense.

“I have to be better. I think we threw for about 100 yards, that’s not going to win in the NFL. We have to be able to do better on that and, ultimately, we have to string this together as a team and play well as a team for 60 minutes to get wins.”

San Francisco got their most production in lieu of Hyde from practice squad call-up DuJuan Harris, who led the 49ers’ running backs with 57 all-purpose yards. Starter Mike Davis was bottled up in his efforts, earning 21 yards on just seven carries.

The Niners only converted six third downs in 15 tries, with Tampa Bay converting the same number on 14 chances. But their pension for turnovers was their downfall, turning a close game at halftime into a blowout loss with a pair of giveaways to start the third quarter.

San Francisco’s battered defense followed up last Sunday’s 313-yard rushing allowance to Buffalo by giving up 249 yards to a Buccaneers rushing unit that started third-stringer Jacquizz Rodgers.

Rodgers would earn a season-high 154 yards rushing on 26 carries against a 49ers defense that saw injuries to key players in Arik Armstead, Rashard Robinson and Aaron Lynch on the day.

Kelly would make no excuses for his defensive unit, injuries or not, in allowing such an outing as a team who previously prided themselves on the ability to stop the run.

“There’s some bumps and bruises along the defensive line, but that’s not an excuse. We have to be better on the defensive side of the ball in terms of stopping the run.”

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston orchestrated an efficient passing attack for Tampa Bay, completing 21-of-30 attempts for 269 yards and three touchdowns while allowing one interception.

For what it’s worth, Kelly said matter-of-factly that defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil’s job is safe through the bye week.

The 49ers got into the Halloween spirit early on Sunday, putting on their best Jekyll and Hyde performance for the Levi’s Crowd that turn a hot start into an ugly deficit.

San Francisco looked far removed from their woes of last week early on in the contest. The home team scored on their opening drive just under two minutes into the game, with Kaepernick working swiftly and effectively to set up a four yard touchdown score from RB Mike Davis.

Tampa Bay then came out looking to test San Francisco’s rush defense just one week after it surrendered 313 yards to the Bills, carrying the ball seven straight times during their inaugural drive. But San Francisco stood stout, forcing a turnover on downs after stomping out a fourth and inches attempt near midfield.

San Francisco’s defense would help to pad the team’s lead a short while later, as a tip from Tramaine Brock would land in the hands of linebacker Gerald Hodges for Tampa Bay’s second turnover in three trips to the field.

Kaepernick would make short work of his opportunity, slinging a 17 yard touchdown strike to running back Shaun Draughn, who walked the tightrope to keep both feet in-bounds for a 14-0 lead.

It was something we hadn’t seen from San Francisco thus far. It was pretty football. It was fundamentally sound football.

Then the illusion was over as swiftly as it came, and the sinister side of 49ers’ football reared its head in the form of 27 unanswered points from Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay earned their first score of the day by working a mismatch in the end zone, scheming the big-bodied Evans in one-on-one coverage against linebacker Nick Bellore.

The 6-foot-5 Evans would exploit his size against San Francisco’s defensive backfield again in the third quarter, working against the slim, rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson for his second touchdown of the game.

With Winston continuing to find his receivers through the air, the running lanes opened up for running back Jacquizz Rodgers, leading to a surging effort that saw the 49ers’ allow over 100 rushing yards for the sixth straight game before the first half whistle even sounded.

With the Tampa Bay offense firing on all cylinders, the Buccaneers took a slim 17-14 lead heading into half time. The three point deficit seemed manageable, but a slew of mishaps continued to sink the 49ers efforts in the second half.

San Francisco looked to enter the third quarter with renewed vigor after a swift three and out forced a quick punt from Tampa Bay. But a special teams fumble gave Tampa Bay new life, which the team would cash in for three points.

A brutal sack by the untouched defensive back Jude Adjei-Barimah jarred the ball loose from Kaepernick during the 49ers’ next trip on the field, resulting in more points off of turnovers with Evan’s second touchdown of the game.

San Francisco’s first points since the opening minutes of the game would come later in the fourth quarter, as a drive would stall short of the goal line for a 28-yard field goal attempt by Phil Dawson. The meager earnings would elicit a chorus of boos from the Levi’s Stadium crowd.

Tampa Bay would answer back with a score of their own eerily reminiscent of last week’s game against Buffalo. After allowing a big-yardage rushing touchdown to Bill’s backup Mike Gillislee last week, Tampa Bay’s backup Peyton Barber would break off a 44 yard touchdown run in the waning minutes of Sunday’s game.

Most of the Levi’s Stadium crowd would depart from the lackluster effort from their home team before the final whistle sounded on the 49ers’ sixth straight loss.


Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.