TAMPA — The 49ers had just finished off a draining 17-play drive to go ahead 23-14 with 4:27 remaining when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers geared up for a quick strike.
Eric Page took the ensuing kickoff and decided to take matters in his own hands. The first-year receiver burst down the middle and attempted a handoff to rookie Russell Shepard, swooping in from left to right, but the exchange was botched and Shepard fell down.
San Francisco's Kendall Hunter alertly scooped up the fumble at the 2-yard line and finished off the back-breaking score, only six seconds after Phil Dawson's 21-yard field goal.
“We'd been working on that play for a little while,'' said Page, who handles both punt and kickoff return duties for Tampa Bay. “I don't think anyone planned for it to go that way ... that wasn't the way it was supposed to work out. It was going smooth in practice, and we knew it was going to be open. When I looked back, I thought he had the ball ... then I saw him fall.''
Shepard, claimed off waivers from the Eagles a week before the season opener, offered no excuses.
“I put that on me,'' he said. “I've got to secure it. I have to be able to secure the ball. Unfortunately, at a tight point in the game, it happened. I have to give our offense an opportunity to come out and have a game-winning drive.''
Bucs coach Greg Schiano suggested the timing wasn't quite right to run the reverse, but Shepard wasn't seeking an exit door.
“I have to be a man about it,'' he said. “I have to learn from it and allow this to make me a better player at the end of the day.''
For six seasons, Dashon Goldson made quite a name for himself in San Francisco, earning two Pro Bowl berths and a reputation as one of the league's hardest-hitting safeties.
When the 49ers entered Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, Goldson exchanged pleasantries with some former teammates before settling down in his new job — patrolling the middle for Tampa Bay.
“It was good to see them,'' said Goldson, who made five tackles. “I wanted to beat them, but they did a good job coming in here and winning the football game.''
Wright in stride
Bucs tight end Tim Wright continued his impressive rookie season with another productive afternoon.
The rookie out of Rutgers led all players with seven catches and 82 receiving yards, including a 24-yard scoring grab from Mike Glennon that sliced San Francisco's lead to 20-14 on the first snap of the fourth quarter.
“It's a play we practiced all week and everybody did their job on that play,'' said Wright, who got behind the 49ers defense to cap off a 92-yard march. “The line held up, other guys ran their route well, I ran my route well and Mike delivered.''
For the season, Wright is second to Vincent Jackson with 45 catches, 486 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions.
After forcing 15 turnovers in the previous four weeks, the Bucs failed to register a takeaway against the 49ers. ... Tampa Bay was seeking its first four-game home winning streak since 2008, Jon Gruden's final season on the sideline. The Bucs finished 3-5 at Raymond James Stadium. ... Bucs punter Michael Koenen had a strong game, averaging 47.7 yards on his seven kicks. ... San Francisco's Phil Dawson made four field goals, running his streak to 24 consecutive successful tries. ... The Bucs are averaging only 11.5 first downs and 216 yards per game in the past month. ... The 49ers ran for 187 yards, the most rushing yards allowed by the Bucs this season other than Seattle's 198-yard effort in November. ... San Francisco's average drive start for its 12 possessions was its own 38-yard line, compared to Tampa Bay's average start at its own 20-yard line. ... The Bucs had the ball for only 105 seconds of the fourth quarter.