After giving themselves a chance, the Bucs saw the opportunity disappear when Colin Kaepernick put together a lengthy drive that helped the San Francisco 49ers win 33-14 Sunday.
Vernon Davis caught a touchdown pass for the fifth straight game and Michael Crabtree scored his first TD since returning from injury for the defending NFC champions.
The victory was the fourth straight for Kaepernick and San Francisco (10-4), who pulled away for good with a 10-minute, fourth-quarter drive that produced a field goal. Kendall Hunter put it well out of reach, scooping up a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and diving 2 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
"They played keepaway, which is what you worry about with that offensive football team," Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said. "The opportunity is there. All week we talked about making it a fourth-quarter game, heavyweight fight, get to the fourth quarter and find a way to win. That's why it's very disappointng to players and coaches alike is that we felt like we had the opportunity and let it go."
Tampa Bay pulled within 20-14 on Mike Glennon's TD pass to Tim Wright on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Bucs (4-10) didn't get the ball back until Kaepernick used 17 plays to move the 49ers 77 yards into position for Phil Dawson to kick one of his four field goals, extending his franchise-record streak of consecutive successful attempts to 24.
"You want to take time off the clock when you can, especially in that situation," Kaepernick said, "Our offensive line did an amazing job, and our receivers and backs made plays."
Kaepernick completed 19 of 29 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In addition to hurting Tampa Bay with his legs by running seven times for 39 yards, the young quarterback threw TD passes of 4 yards to Crabtree and 52 yards to Davis, who finished with five receptions for 79 yards.
Frank Gore rushed for 86 yards to go over 1,000 in a season for the seventh time in his career.
Glennon was 18 of 34 for 179 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. But the Bucs only managed 39 yards rushing and were limited to a season-low 183 total net yards.
Vincent Jackson scored on an 11-yard reception to trim a 17-0 deficit to 10 points just before halftime. Glennon's 24-yard pass to Wright finished a 10-play, 92-yard drive that gave Tampa Bay hopes of pulling an upset.
But the Niners would have none of it.
Kaepernick kept San Francisco's long fourth-quarter march going with a 12-yard pass to Crabtree on third-and-12, then scrambled for 10 yards on third-and-6 for a first down at the Bucs 19. The drive eventually stalled at the 3, where the 49ers settled for Dawson's 21-yard field goal.
"Give them some credit," Glennon said. "That was a great job by them in the fourth quarter."
Eric Page fielded the ensuing kickoff, started up one side before heading across the field where he attempted to hand the ball to Russell Shepard on a reverse. Shepard lost the ball as he slipped to the ground, and Hunter made a nice to play to scoop it up on the run and score for a 30-14 lead.
"It was a called play that we were going to run a reverse if the opportunity presented itself the right way. It didn't, and yet we still ran it," Schiano said. "OK, we made a mistake. Guys make mistakes. I'm not going to get into specifics about it. Sometimes you make mistakes."
Crabtree's return from a torn right Achilles tendon that sidelined him the first 11 games of the season has given San Francisco's offense, last in the league passing yardage, a lift. The speedy receiver averaged 18 yards per reception in his first two games back and had five catches for 45 yards, including his first quarter TD on Sunday.
Kaepernick set up the first score of the game with a couple of nifty third-down conversions, scrambling for 17 yards on third-and-8 from the Tampa Bay 33 on one and throwing 5 yards to Bruce Miller on third-and-3 on the other. Crabtree scored two plays later.
"We had opportunties without a doubt to stop them, and we didn't do it," Schiano said. "That's what it boils down to."
NOTES: Tampa Bay S Mark Barron hurt his hamstring. ... The Buccaneers were 1 for 10 on third down. ... Bucs LBs Dekoda Watson (11) and Lavonte David (10) combined for 21 tackles.
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