TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon returned two of a retooled San Francisco defense’s three interceptions of Jameis Winston for touchdowns and Robbie Gould kicked three field goals in the 49ers’s 31-17 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 166 yards and one touchdown in his first game in nearly a year.
Winston threw for 194 yards to become Tampa Bay’s career passing leader, including a 10-yard scoring pass to Chris Godwin that trimmed a double-digit deficit to 20-14 late in the third quarter. Ultimately, though, the Bucs could not overcome the fifth-year quarterback’s mistakes and dropped their debut under coach Bruce Arians, who was lured out of retirement after Tampa Bay finished 5-11 last season and missed the playoffs for the 11th straight year.
Garoppolo, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, completed 18 of 27 passes with one interception. His 39-yard pass to Richie James Jr. put the 49ers ahead for good early in the second half.
Despite becoming Tampa Bay’s career passing leader, Winston has yet to lead the team to the playoffs or prove he’s the club’s long-term answer at quarterback. Arians has also worked with Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer as a long-time coach and offensive coordinator, and the Bucs are counting on him to help the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft realize his potential.
This is also a season when the 49ers are counting on Garoppolo to make major strides, too. The 49ers gave the sixth-year pro a $137.5 million, five-year contract after Garoppolo won his first five starts for San Francisco in 2017. He didn’t look nearly as good early last season, when he completed less than 60 percent of his passes before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him the final 13 games.
Neither quarterback distinguished himself during a sloppy first half that saw the teams combine for four turnovers and have five touchdowns — three by San Francisco, two by Tampa Bay — nullified because of penalties in a 7-6 game.
The Bucs’ Vernon Hargreaves returned an interception 15 yards for the only TD that counted before halftime. Sherman countered for the 49ers, sprinting 31 yards up the sideline with his first interception in eight games to give San Francisco a 20-7 lead a little over three minutes into the third quarter. Witherspoon put the game out of reach with his 25-yard TD return in the closing minutes.
49ers: FS Jimmie Ward (hand) was inactive, replaced in the lineup by Tarvarius Moore. … RB Tevin Coleman left with an ankle injury and did not return. …. CB K’Waun Williams (dehydration) left in the third quarter.
Buccaneers: DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches left in the second quarter with a hand injury.
San Francisco LB Kwon Alexander was penalized 15 yards and ejected for lowering his head to initiate contact on a hit on Winston late in the first quarter. Winston scrambled for a 5-yard gain and was hit by his former teammate as the quarterback began to slide at the 49ers 45. Alexander was playing his first game since signing with San Francisco as a free agent. He played the first four years of his career with the Bucs.
Fans arriving early to Raymond James Stadium were entertained by country music star Tim McGraw. The concert in 90-degree heat began more than two hours before kickoff. McGraw also performed an encore at halftime.
49ers: at Cincinnati next Sunday. The franchises met twice in Super Bowls in the 1980s, the Niners winning both.
Buccaneers: road opener at Carolina on short rest on Thursday night.