Santa Clara, CA-
All the Buccaneers wanted to do during the bye week was get healthy. It didn’t happen. Despite not playing a game last week, the Bucs returned to work last Monday with even more players in the infirmary than they had there the week before.
Oddly, the loss of wide receiver Vincent Jackson to a season-ending knee injury and the setback running back Doug Martin suffered in his rehab from a hamstring strain didn’t keep the Bucs from getting well where it matters most: in the standings.
Taking advantage of a weak San Francisco rush defense and three takeaways by their own defense and special teams units, the Bucs rallied from 14 points down on Sunday to record a 34-17 victory over the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.
The win left the Bucs in sole possession of second place in the NFC South and with a 3-2 record in the NFC, where they could soon find themselves in the running for a wild card berth, especially with three straight home games next up on the schedule.
The Bucs will return home still wondering when and possibly if they’ll ever get Martin back, but if Jacquizz Rodgers keeps running the way he did against the 49ers the Bucs won’t feel any need to rush the two-time Pro Bowler back into the lineup.
Two weeks after he ran a career-high 30 times for a career-high 101 yards, Rodgers improved significantly on the latter mark, running 26 times for 154 yards. He also caught one pass for nine yards. The only thing Rodgers didn’t do was score.
The Bucs didn’t necessarily need him to, though, Despite being without Jackson, the Bucs got two touchdown receptions from Mike Evans, who caught eight passes for 96 yards, and one from special teams standout Russell Shepard, who caught five passes for 77 yards.
Like the Bucs, quarterback Jameis Winston rallied from a slow start as well. After setting up the 49ers second score by throwing an interception on Tampa Bay’s third possession, Winston completed 21 of 30 passes for 269 yards and the three scores.
It was Shepard who stepped up the most with Jackson out and he had a little extra motivation to do so. He explained afterward that 49ers coach Chip Kelly was the first NFL coach to give him an NFL job and the first to take one away.
“Any time you can go up against a team you played for in the past or a coach you played for in the past it’s extra motivation to go out and do your best,’’ Shepard said. “And I feel pretty good about what I did. Anytime you can help your team win it’s a great feeling.’’