Already one of the most surprising teams in the NFL, the Bucs specialized in doing the unexpected Sunday.
A receiver threw a pass on a fake punt at midfield. The backup quarterback ran for a first down, completed a pass and lined up at wideout. The 305-pound left tackle had a touchdown reception. And the rookie who made headlines for his off-field mistake crossed the goal line again.
But perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Bucs' 21-0 win over the 49ers was that the defense produced the club's first road shutout since 2003.
In fact, Tampa Bay entered the game last in the league with only eight sacks but recorded six against Niners quarterback Troy Smith, including a pair of half-sacks by first-round pick Gerald McCoy.
"We're impossible to ignore," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said after watching his team improve to 7-3 — tied for second in the NFC South, a game behind Atlanta — by winning at Candlestick Park for the first time since 1980 (and only the second time in franchise history). We're an exciting brand of football."
How exciting? Well, first you have to forgive Morris for ordering a first-quarter fake punt in which receiver Micheal Spurlock, a quarterback at Ole Miss, had his pass intended for Earnest Graham on fourth and 1 at the Bucs 47-yard line knocked down. "They overcame bad coaching with my fake punt," Morris said.
Not that the Bucs needed to trick the 49ers. They rushed for 162 yards, including 82 on 26 carries by tailback LeGarrette Blount, who flattened linebacker Parys Haralson with a forearm shiver and hurdled safety Reggie Smith on a 16-yard third-quarter run.
Quarterback Josh Freeman passed for 136 yards and two touchdowns. His first was an 8-yard fade route to rookie Mike Williams, who made a leaping catch in the end zone despite being interfered with by Niners cornerback Shawntae Spencer in the third quarter.
Williams, who caught three passes for 54 yards, started the game despite his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence shortly before 3 a.m. Friday in Tampa.
Police say Williams was changing lanes and failed a field sobriety test, even though his blood alcohol was 0.065 percent and 0.061 percent, below the threshold of 0.08 at which the state presumes a driver is impaired.
"I know the mistake I made was staying out late, and that's something I have to learn from," Williams said. "I know I was good enough to drive, just the mistake I made was staying out too late. I have to learn from that. I can't take it as I was too young for the situation. It was just my fault."
Several Bucs team captains, including cornerback Ronde Barber, Freeman and center Jeff Faine, met with Morris and encouraged him to start Williams on Sunday.
"We all felt as a group, if we kept him out, it would've been us as a family turning our back on one of our own when he really didn't do anything wrong," Faine said. "So we supported him being able to play."
On Sunday, nearly every player got to contribute. Backup quarterback Josh Johnson took several direct snaps, running 7 yards for a first down and completing a 7-yard pass to Sammie Stroughter. He also lined up at wideout.
"He's a very good quarterback, but he possesses a lot of skills a lot of other quarterbacks don't possess," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "I just think he deserves to be on the field because of his skills set. It's a matter of sprinkling him in and not only run the ball at quarterback, but throw it and let him play some receiver. I think the element of surprise helped us because we're hard to prepare for with all we do."
Certainly, there's no way the 49ers could've anticipated left tackle Donald Penn checking in as an eligible receiver and catching a 1-yard touchdown pass from Freeman in the fourth quarter to make it 21-0.
Penn, who had worked on that play in practice all season, tossed the football into the seats at Candlestick, but Bucs officials retrieved it.
"That's one of those things you show your kids when you get older," Penn said. "Not too many tackles who have caught a touchdown."
Yup, the Bucs surprised the 49ers on Sunday, and they are raising eyebrows around the league. But they are no longer shocking themselves.
"We came to the West Coast with the odds against us, them saying we can't win on the West Coast," defensive tackle McCoy said. "Whatever. We came out and played as hard as we could. We got a goose egg, the sacks came, we're 7-3. They're going to start noticing."
|About the writer|
Rick Stroud has been the lead Bucs beat writer for The St.Petersburg Times for many years and his game reports and news updates are a prime source of information for Buccaneer fans in the Bay area. He also often makes guest appearances on the JP Peterson show on 1010 Sports Radio.