Buccaneers 21, 49ers 0

From 3-13 a year ago to playoff contender.

Say what you like about the inexperienced Tampa Bay Buccaneers,

Sunday’s shutout at San Francisco might just be that signature

victory this franchise needed to gain some national respect at

last.

All it took for Tampa Bay to finally win again at Candlestick

Park was a methodical, mistake-free day of football.

Josh Freeman threw for 136 yards and two touchdown passes and

the Buccaneers beat the 49ers 21-0 on Sunday for their first win in

this stadium since 1980 and only second ever in 13 tries.

”We want to go out and do anything we can to win games and we

want to have fun doing that,” Freeman said. ”It’s all about our

mentality. People were telling us, ‘Man, you can’t go to the West

Coast and win.’ We won last year and won on the West Coast and this

is a completely different team. We’re rejuvenated and we’re ready

to push forward.”

The NFL’s youngest team is right in the thick of the NFC South

title chase and making a legitimate playoff push.

Nothing fancy needed for the Bucs (7-3) to end an eight-game

losing streak in San Francisco. They were the underdog, no

less.

Ronde Barber made his 40th career interception in the fourth

quarter, most in Tampa Bay franchise history, to help clinch it. He

also became the first player in NFL history to record 40

interceptions and 25 sacks in a career.

LeGarrette Blount ran for 82 yards and 305-pound left tackle

Donald Penn made a late 1-yard touchdown catch.

49ers quarterback Troy Smith lost for the first time in three

starts and was sacked six times – leaving coach Mike Singletary to

ponder whether to return to former starter Alex Smith next week for

San Francisco (3-7). Singletary said he would watch film before

making a decision.

”It’s a banner day for us on the defensive line as far as

getting to the quarterback,” Barber said. ”That’s huge for us. It

sets the tone going into the latter part of the season. This is a

real fun victory for us.”

The Niners were shut out at home for the first time since a 7-0

loss to Atlanta on Oct. 9, 1977.

This was yet another surprising performance by the young Bucs, a

dominant day one week after their 31-16 win over Carolina.

Blount, who nearly joined the 49ers then changed his mind and

briefly went to Tennessee before the Bucs picked him up off waivers

in September, easily broke one tackle and hurdled safety Reggie

Smith for a 16-yard gain late in the third quarter. That set up

Freeman’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams two plays later.

The rookie played two days after his arrest on a DUI charge early

Friday.

Tampa Bay’s other Williams – running back Carnell – scored on a

6-yard TD run in the second quarter.

Freeman’s numbers weren’t necessarily that impressive, but he

kept several drives going with his feet, heads-up decisions and key

third-down completions.

Tampa Bay’s stingy defense did its part, too. San Francisco

managed only 189 total yards and 11 first downs – never reaching

the red zone. And two of those first downs came via penalty. San

Francisco had the ball for only 23 minutes, 36 seconds, to Tampa

Bay’s 36:24 in time of possession.

”These guys are playing great,” Bucs coach Raheem Morris said.

”I told you guys, stats are for losers. We don’t deal with that.

We deal with playing hard, playing fast, playing smart and playing

consistent.”

The 49ers punted from the Tampa Bay 33 and 38 on their two

deepest drives into Bucs’ territory. San Francisco ran only 21

offensive plays in the first half, with Smith getting sacked on two

of those. That made for a lot of extra stress on the defense.

Singletary went with Smith again even though Alex Smith is

healthy from a separated non-throwing left shoulder he hurt at

Carolina on Oct. 24. Singletary has said he would name his starting

quarterback each week – though this debacle was hardly all Troy

Smith’s fault.

A win here would have put the Niners right back in the chase in

the mediocre NFC West, a division they were picked to win before

the season. Now they hit the road for games at Arizona and Green

Bay.

”It always starts with the head coach, always. I’m very much

aware of that,” Singletary said. ”We’re all in this

together.”

San Francisco was trying for a third straight victory and fourth

in five following an 0-5 start. Still, team president Jed York

declared to ESPN after the awful start that the franchise would

fight back to capture the division and reach the playoffs – which

would mean ending a seven-year postseason drought.

”Hard to believe? You see the record every day,” All Pro

linebacker Patrick Willis said. ”We have to live with it.”

It could have been worse. San Francisco caught a break when

Connor Barth hooked a 41-yard field-goal attempt wide left with

5:11 remaining in the third quarter.

Smith was 16 for 31 passes for 148 yards after throwing for 552

yards on 29 of 47 passing in his first two starts, including

rallying the Niners to a 23-20 overtime victory against St. Louis

last Sunday.

The Bucs improved to 3-23 in the regular season in the state of

California.