SANTA CLARA — In the closing seconds of the first quarter, Colin Kaepernick escaped to his left, danced over the hands of a diving defender and threaded a perfectly placed pass to Shaun Draughn, who tapped his toes just inside the pylon before crashing to the ground.
A year and a day after making his last start at Levi’s Stadium, Kaepernick piloted the San Francisco 49ers to a 14-0 lead in less than 15 minutes of play on Sunday afternoon. He also led the team to just three points in the 45 minutes and change that followed.
“Right now, we haven’t been playing 60 minutes,” Kaepernick said after the 34-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “We’ve had good spurts. We’ve had flashes, but we haven’t been able to do that on a continual basis.”
In between that first-quarter touchdown and Phil Dawson’s fourth-quarter field goal, the Buccaneers gashed the home team for 27 unanswered points, as the 49ers endured their sixth consecutive loss and dropped to 1-6 overall.
After the Bucs cut the deficit to 14-10 at the half, the game devolved into a cavalcade of mishaps and poor play for the hosts once the teams returned from their respective locker rooms.
The 49ers fumbled twice — the second of which the team recovered — and Kaepernick threw for just two yards in the third quarter.
“Those two critical turnovers to start the beginning of the third quarter, I think, were the huge things that put ourselves in too big of a hole to be able to get out of,” said 49ers head coach Chip Kelly.
The afternoon hit a low point on the first fumble, just a couple of minutes into the second half, when the punt return team managed to botch a free catch.
As Bryan Anger’s punt went booming into the air, Jeremy Kerley rushed forward to haul it in. Just as the return man caught the ball, teammate Aaron Burbridge crashed into his legs, and Kerley fumbled the ball away.
Before the second half began, the 49ers had already allowed an opposing rusher to blow past the 100-yard mark for the sixth game in a row.
Tampa Bay running back Jacquizz Rodgers cleared that plateau with five minutes left in the second quarter, when he carved through the 49ers’ defense on a 45-yard run. The Buccaneers ended the afternoon with 249 yards on the ground.