The San Francisco 49ers got off to a hot start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, emulating the heat and humidity at Raymond James Stadium, forcing a Bucs 3-and-out on the opening possession of the game. To set the tone even further, special teams ace Mark Nzeocha blocked a punt by former Niners punter, Bradley Pinion, which gave San Francisco excellent field position to start its first offensive drive.

It nearly ended in a touchdown pass to tight end George Kittle, yet an offensive pass interference call on fullback Kyle Juszczyk negated the would-be score, forcing head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. to settle for a field goal by kicker Robbie Gould for the 49ers' first points of 2019.

On Tampa Bay's subsequent drive, cornerback Richard Sherman was flagged twice -- the first after a non-call, which Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians challenged. The call on the field was overturned, which gave observers a new look at the league's rule change on being able to challenge pass-interference calls.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander nearly picked off a pass by Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston on third down, dropping it instead. Despite the gaffe, Alexander made his presence known in the first quarter, including this tackle on running back Peyton Barber:


Alexander had three tackles during the quarter, yet he was also flagged with a helmet hit on Winston, which resulted in Alexander's disqualification from the game.

San Francisco's defense reeled for a bit as a result, watching Tampa Bay march into the red zone and nearly score on a touchdown reception by wide receiver Mike Evans, only to have it negated by a Buccaneers hold. The following play, the Niners defense forced tight end O.J. Howard to fumble the ball into the hands of defensive end Ronald Blair.

Considering the 49ers had just seven forced takeaways last season, Blair's generated turnover is a promising step in the right direction.

But quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made his own mistake, tossing a pick-six to Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, which put Tampa Bay up 7-3 at the 8:41 mark of the second quarter. San Francisco then suffered two more would-be touchdowns negated by an offensive penalties -- first a hold, erasing a run by Raheem Mostert, and then an illegal shift on right tackle Mike McGlinchey that prevented Kittle from scoring from 22 yards out. Questionable calls? Perhaps, yet the Niners offense still looked out of sync more often than not against a non-elite defense.

Gould found his target again, closing the gap to one point after a 49ers drive spanning 5:46 ahead of halftime.

Nzeocha, now playing with the first-team defense in Alexander's stead, made his presence known again on the following defensive stand, picking off a pass from Winston intended for Howard. The ball bounced off Howard's hands and into the waiting arms of Nzeocha.

Seems to be a pretty good idea San Francisco kept Nzeocha on the 53-man roster after the preseason.

But the 49ers' woes continued shortly thereafter, as wide receiver Deebo Samuel fumbled on a screen play despite not being touched by a Bucs defender. Tampa Bay recovered, negating any chance the Niners had to take the lead before halftime.

At least San Francisco will start off the third quarter on offense.
  • Peter Panacy
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    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.