Three and Out: Pumped up Crabtree; smart play by Reid
With two victories to wrap up the season, the 49ers (10-4) will be assured of the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. (USATSI)
Programming note: Watch Monday’s 49ers press conference with head coach Jim Harbaugh live on CSN Bay Area and streaming live online right here at 1pm
What you need to know: The 49ers knew exactly where the trap was set. And they prepared all week for avoiding it.
One week after an emotional victory against a heated division rival, the 49ers were focused on knocking off a team that could’ve made its season with a victory on Sunday.
But the defense was generally solid, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was efficient with his arm and legs and the 49ers put together a vintage game-clinching drive just when it was needed most in a 33-14 victory over the pesky Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“The win against Seattle was huge for our season, but we knew that it didn’t mean anything unless we followed it up with a win,” 49ers rookie safety Eric Reid said. “We got that (Sunday), and now we’re looking forward to next week.”
There are two opportunities for the 49ers to clinch a spot in the NFC playoffs next week. First, they will be assured of their third consecutive trip to the postseason if the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks win at home against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
If Arizona pulls off the upset at Seattle, the 49ers can wrap up the Wild Card with a victory next Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons in the final regular-season game at Candlestick Park.
And with two victories to wrap up the season, the 49ers (10-4) will be assured of the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. Carolina and New Orleans out of the NFC South also have 10-4 records, but those teams face each other on Sunday, which would enable the 49ers’ seeding to improve one spot within the six-team playoff field.
The cross-country trip against Tampa Bay, winners of four of its past five games entering Sunday, set up as a tricky game for the 49ers. The game was the 49ers’ only East Coast trip in which kickoff was set 10 a.m., Pacific time.
And the 49ers had a find a way to bounce back after an emotionally draining victory over the Seahawks. Clearly, everyone on the team knew the exact path to follow from being caught.
“Everyone wants to call it a trap game,” 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said. “And it’s easy for us to use that as an excuse. But we knew if go out and lay an egg, the Seattle win means nothing.”
If it’s late in the season, and the games grow in importance, it must mean that Kaepernick will be using his legs to make plays. And that’s exactly what he did. He gained 42 yards on four runs.
Kaepernick completed 19 of 29 pass attempts for 203 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He hit Michael Crabtree with a 4-yard touchdown to cap the first drive of the game. In the second quarter he threw a perfect laser to tight end Vernon Davis that traveled 63 yards in the air that Davis ran down for a 52-yard touchdown.
“Kaepernick really put on his cape,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “A couple of those conversions were, I don’t know how to describe them. There’s not a lot of people that can make those kinds of plays that he was making, making them with his feet, making them with his arm, making them with his head. I mean, who’s able to do that in this league? Very few guys.”
Clinching drive: Despite rolling to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, the 49ers experienced some tense moments to open the fourth quarter. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon led Tampa Bay back to within six points, 20-14, on his 24-yard touchdown pass to Tim Wright on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The 49ers needed points. And they needed to take some time off the clock. They accomplished both missions with a 17-play, 77-yard drive that chewed up 10 minutes, 27 seconds.
“Our defense really came through,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. “It’s great to see those guys keep the clock moving with those first downs.”
The 49ers converted two third downs on the drive with Kaepernick hitting Crabtree for a 14-yard gain on third and 12, and Kaepernick picking up 10 yards on a third-and-6 scramble.
[RELATED: Crabtree plays with pent-up emotions]
In the end, the 49ers settled for Phil Dawson’s 21-yard field goal. Dawson made all four of his field-goal attempts to run his club-record streak to 24 consecutive.
“Everybody knew we wanted to take time off the clock to help our defense,” 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis said. “We needed points, period. But in the future, we need to get seven points.
Crabtree’s emotions: Crabtree became just the third 49ers player this season to catch a touchdown pass, joining Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. He was clearly jacked-up Sunday for his third game back after missing 11 games while rounding into shape from Achilles surgery in May.
“I just want to play,” Crabtree said. “I feel like I got to catch up. Everybody keeps trying to slow me down, and tell me to chill. I don’t feel like chillin’, I feel like playing. I feel like catching touchdowns, catching balls, and making plays.”
Crabtree battled some frustration at times in the game. He threw his arms up in disgust when Kaepernick threw a third-quarter pass for Boldin when Crabtree was all alone underneath for a potential big gain.
And Crabtree was wide open on a deep post but Kaepernick overthrew him in the fourth quarter. Crabtree, who was a quarterback in high school, picked up the ball and fired it back toward the line of scrimmage, where the ball hit Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David in the shoulder.
“Just a little frustration,” Crabtree said. “You don’t see too many plays like that out of me. Just emotions.”
Crabtree drew a penalty that could have been a big play, if he had not also caught a key third-down pass to keep the 49ers’ long drive alive.
“He knows he shouldn’t have done it,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “What I think was he ran a good route, was open on the post and got over-led and then picked up the ball and got (emotionally) hijacked a little bit and threw it back in there.
“(He’s) got a heck of an arm.”
[RELATED: Gore goes over 1,000-yard mark]
Gore hits 1,000: For the seventh time in his nine-year career, running back Frank Gore eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in a season. Gore picked up 86 yards on 22 rushing attempts.
Through 13 games, Gore has rushed for 1,017 yards on 242 attempts for a 4.2-yard average.
Perhaps Gore’s biggest contribution on Sunday was his blocking, as he picked up a blitz that bought Kaepernick time to throw his touchdown pass to Crabtree to cap the opening drive. Gore opened the game with a 13-yard run.
“Our coordinator (Greg Roman) said he wanted to start fast,” Gore said. “He called a great play. The offensive line did great, Bruce Miller did great, Anquan Boldin came down on the safety and it was a great start.”
Quick-hitters: Fullback Bruce Miller was in extreme pain with his arm in a sling as he required some help to pull on a sweatshirt for the 49ers’ flight home. Because there was swelling in his arm, Miller did not undergo X-rays at the stadium. He is scheduled for further observation on Monday in the Bay Area.
Miller was injured after catching a 10-yard pass on the 49ers’ long, game-clinching drive when Tampa Bay safety Keith Tandy struck Miller’s left side. He said he does not believe the injury will have long-term effects.
“No, no. I’ve felt this feeling before,” Miller said. “We’ll take a closer look at it, but it’s just a stinger,” Miller said. “Just the soreness, it feels like it (the pain) is all over.” . . .
[RELATED: Miller scheduled for X-rays on arm]
Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey went down on the first play of the game with a right knee injury. After his knee got taped on the sideline, Dorsey returned to action and was a key figure in the 49ers’ defense that held Tampa to just 39 yards rushing on 12 attempts. . .
Vernon Davis’ 52-yard touchdown reception came at a price. Davis caught Kaepernick’s pass 2 yards deep in the end zone while running at top speed. The permanent wall at Raymond James Stadium is situated about 5 yards behind the back line of the end zone. The wall offered a lot more resistance than the Buccaneers secondary, and Davis appeared to be dazed after crashing into it.
“I didn’t know it was that close,” Davis said. “I didn’t know their wall was right there. Just made the play, and when I looked up, the wall was right there. (It) just knocked the wind out of me a little bit.”
Davis became the first tight end in NFL history to record 12 touchdown catches in two seasons. And he became the first 49ers player with scoring receptions in five consecutive games since Terrell Owens in 2001. . . .
Running back Kendall Hunter picked up 40 yards rushing on eight carries. But his most notable play came on kickoff coverage when he recovered a botched Buccaneers reverse for a touchdown to give the 49ers a 30-14 lead late in the game.
“It was a called play,” Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano said. “We were going to run a reverse if the opportunity presented itself the right way. It didn’t, yet we still rain it. It’s OK. We made a mistake. Guys make mistakes sometimes.” . . .
Outside linebacker Aldon Smith recorded two sacks for his 12th multi-sack game of his three-year career. Smith tied Ahmad Brooks for the team lead with 8.5 sacks on the season despite missing five games due to a voluntary leave of absence.
“I think that’s the most consistent I’ve been in since I’ve been back, so the more plays, the more chances to make plays,” Smith said. . . .
With Dashon Goldson now playing for the Buccaneers, rookie safety Eric Reid, Goldson’s replacement in the 49ers’ secondary, grabbed his fourth interception of the game. Reid could have had a touchdown on the late-game pick, but he wisely opted to go down at the Tampa 22-yard line so the 49ers’ offense could run out the clock.
“We practice two-minute on Thursdays, so you know those situations in the game,” Reid said. “We know they’re trying to score and we’re trying to keep them out of the end zone. So if we get the turnover, just go ahead and get down.
“I looked up and saw nothing but white jerseys, you kind of think about it. But at the end of the day, I think I made the right decision.” . . .
Cornerback Tarell Brown returned to action after missing three games due to internal damage from a ribs injury on his left side. Tramaine Brock remained as the starter, and Brown entered as the third cornerback. Veteran Eric Wright held that job during Brown’s absence. Brown was not credited with a tackle in the game, but he had good coverage on one deep incompletion.
Quote of the day: “It looked like Willie Mays running down a long ball to center field. He just tracked it down with his feet and his eyes and then extended to make the catch. It was a big-time play.”
--Harbaugh on Vernon Davis’ 52-yard touchdown catch
Looking ahead: Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who lives in Tampa and attended Sunday’s game, will make it two 49ers games in a row for the first time since his days of ownership. DeBartolo will attend the 49ers’ final regularly scheduled game at Candlestick Park next Monday night. DeBartolo said Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig and Dwight Clark will also attend the finale against the Atlanta Falcons. “In a different way, I left a lot of my heart and my blood, sweat and tears on that field, too,” DeBartolo said. The 49ers are scheduled to move into Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for the 2014 season.