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49ers surpass 2018 interception total in messy opening day win over Buccaneers

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


In the past few years, the preseason feels like it has extended its domain to the start of the regular season. That certainly felt like the case on the 49ers’ first regular season Sunday, a 31-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 92-degree heat in Tampa, Florida helped no one in avoiding a sweaty, sloppy mess of a first half. Five negated touchdowns, four turnovers, one blocked punt and a Kwon Alexander ejection against his former team highlighted an opening half that was enjoyable for few people other than maybe Mark Nzeocha.

Nzeocha, who replaced Dre Greenlaw at SAM after Alexander’s disappointing ejection (Greenlaw moved to WILL), owned the blocked punt and had an interception, though his contributions were outweighed in that opening half by a pair of mistakes from Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The 49ers crushed the Buccaneers with turnovers in the second half, however, and collected a season-opening win.

Two sides of the turnover coin: Sherman, Witherspoon collect pick-sixes after Garoppolo’s own

It wasn’t a pristine day for Richard Sherman by any means. He had three penalties called on him, including a hold in the second half on a touchdown pass to Chris Godwin that closed the 49ers’ second half lead fro 20-7 to 20-14. Despite those penalties, Sherman pulled off a mirror image of Garoppolo’s first half error.

Garoppolo threw a horrid pick-six to the Buccaneers’ Vernon Hargreaves, which required almost no work on the part of Hargreaves. Garoppolo’s turnover wasn’t isolated, however. Deebo Samuel wasted a chance for the 49ers to go up 9-7 at the end of the first half, fumbling and turning over the ball embarrassingly with 10 seconds left and the 49ers in field goal range.

But in the second half, Sherman buttressed the first 49ers offensive touchdown of the season with the team’s first defensive touchdown. Garoppolo connected with Richie James Jr. on a perfect 39-yard pass and catch for a touchdown that put the 49ers up 13-7.

When the Buccaneers got the ball back, Winston did his best impersonation of Garoppolo’s pick-six with his own. Sherman made an easy grab and returned it excellently to put the 49ers up 20-14.

Sherman’s interception matched the 49ers’ interception total and interception return touchdown total from 2018 thanks to Nzeocha’s interception. It was his first since 2017, after he failed to secure an interception in 2018. And with a Fred Warner forced fumble (he threw a haymaker at the ball to knock it out in the first half, and did it later in the game, too, for another fumble) and Ronald Blair III recovery, the 49ers had a 3-2 turnover advantage… until Jameis Winston iced the game for the 49ers with a fourth.

With just a tick above two minutes left, and Winston pressured by a trio of Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, Winston floated a ball into no-man’s land, where Ahkello Witherspoon was waiting. Witherspoon plucked it from the air and jogged in for his first career touchdown to give the 49ers a 29-17 lead (settled at 31-17 on a two-point conversion from Garoppolo to Deebo Samuel due to a potential Robbie Gould injury). There was nearly a fifth from a Tarvarius Moore PBU that had the potential to go the other way.

Garoppolo not great, but does enough to get a rusty win (with plenty of Kittle support)

There were plenty of head-scratching moments from Garoppolo on Sunday, with his interception obviously the most egregious of them all. Garoppolo could have eased the 49ers’ stress on multiple occasions and did not. He overthrew Kendrick Bourne over the middle, threw the ball behind Marquise Goodwin on a potential huge play and threw a ball low for Matt Breida in the late stages of the game. His first completion was thrown behind Goodwin and only completed thanks to a nice catch.

Garoppolo had one reliable target on Sunday, and it was exactly who you’d expect: George Kittle. Kittle caught eight passes for 54 yards on Sunday, with Samuel the next-closest in receptions with three for 17 yards.

Garoppolo went 18-for-27 with 166 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. The worst of his day, the interception, was met with a stern response from head coach Kyle Shanahan:

Other notes: Penalties rampant, including one on a clutch Garoppolo run… and injuries

  • Injury notes: Tevin Coleman suffered an ankle injury in the first half and did not return in the second, while Matt Breida, who underwent concussion protocol, had the opposite. K’Waun Williams suffered from dehydration in the second half and was pulled for Emmanuel Moseley, while Robbie Gould, kicking a field goal to put the 49ers up 23-17 late in the fourth quarter, pulled up lame and did not attempt the point after following Witherspoon’s pick-six.
  • Penalties everywhere: There were five touchdowns called back for penalties, two of which went to tight ends on either side. Both Cam Brate and George Kittle had a pair of receiving touchdowns negated by penalties, as did Raheem Mostert, who ran for a touchdown that was called back. In total, there were 11 49ers penalties for 87 yards and eight Buccaneers penalties, also for 87 yards.
  • Nick Bosa collected his first career sack on Sunday, and it came with the help of Dee Ford rushing from the other side. He also made sure Winston went down on a sack by Arik Armstead. Here’s the first sack:

 

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