TAMPA, Fla. – It took 14 games, but 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick finally found a third target in the end zone.
Michael Crabtree, who was Kaepernick’s preferred receiver last season, capped the 49ers’ first drive of the game with a 4-yard touchdown reception, as the 49ers rolled to a 33-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
The 49ers (10-4) closed in on their third straight appearance in the playoffs with the victory. The 49ers can wrap up a spot as an NFC wild-card team with an Arizona loss at Tennessee and a loss by either Dallas or Philadelphia.
Through the first 13 games, Kaepernick had thrown touchdown passes to only tight end Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. No other NFL team had fewer than four different players catch scoring passes.
Crabtree’s touchdown grab came in his third game since returning to action from a torn Achilles he sustained in May.
But Kaepernick certainly did not forget about Davis or Boldin, either.
Boldin made a 25-yard reception with a strong run after the catch to set up a field goal in the second quarter. And on the next possession, Kaepernick hit Davis with a beautiful 52-yard touchdown against the coverage of Buccaneers safety Mark Barron.
It was Davis’ 12th touchdown catch of the season to become the first tight end in NFL history with two seasons with 12 or more touchdown receptions. He also became the first 49ers player with a touchdown reception in five consecutive games since Terrell Owens in 2001.
Kaepernick had a strong all-around game for the 49ers. He completed 19-of-29 passes for 203 yards with two touchdowns. He also gained 39 yards rushing on seven rushing attempts.
Crabtree led the 49ers last season with 85 catches for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season.
But there was plenty of frustration for Crabtree on Sunday, too. He threw his hands in the air after Kaepernick did not see him underneath on a pass that went to Boldin for a first down. And in the third quarter, Crabtree was open deep but Kaepernick overthrew him. Crabtree picked up the ball and threw it, drawing a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Two plays after the penalty, Crabtree made a 14-yard reception on third down to keep a drive alive. The 49ers eventually scored the points that put them ahead by nine with 4:27 to play.
The 49ers put the game away on the ensuing kickoff when Kendall Hunter recovered an Eric Page fumble for a touchdown with 4:21 remaining.
Gore goes for 1,000: Frank Gore became the 20th player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 or more yards in seven seasons on Sunday. Gore had a 5-yard gain in the fourth quarter to put him at the 1,000-yard mark. Then, he gained 12 yards on his next carry. Gore gained his yards on a drive in which the 49ers chewed up 10 minutes, 27 seconds on a 17-play, 77-yard drive. Gore finished the game with 86 yards on 22 rushing attempts.
Up-and-down defense: The 49ers completely shut down the Buccaneers until the final two minutes of the first half. With a 17-0 lead, the 49ers allowed Tampa Bay’s rookie quarterback Mike Glennon to march down the field. Glennon got Tampa on the board with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson.
Then, the 49ers dozed off long enough for Glennon and the Bucs to piece together a 10-play, 92-yard touchdown drive, capped a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tim Wright against the coverage of safety Donte Whitner. That play, which came on the first snap of the fourth quarter, cut the 49ers’ lead to 20-14.
Linebacker Aldon Smith recorded two sacks, giving him 8.5 on the season, and safety Eric Reid added a late-game interception, the fourth of his rookie season.
Injury concern: Things did not start off well for the 49ers’ defense as nose tackle Glenn Dorsey went down on the first play of the game with a right knee injury. However, after getting his knee taped on the sideline, Dorsey was back on the field for the next defensive series.
Visit from Eddie: Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who lives about 12 miles from Raymond James Stadium, watched Sunday’s game. He said he spoke with his nephew, 49ers CEO Jed York, on Saturday and believes coach Jim Harbaugh will have a new contract shortly after the season.
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“I think it’s important that he gets things tied up,” DeBartolo said. “And we (he and York) talked yesterday and I think they’re well on their way of getting it done.”
Harbaugh, who ranks behind Pete Carroll and Jeff Fisher in salary among NFC West coaches, is in the third year of a five-year, $25 million contract.
This ‘n’ that: Phil Dawson extended his own club-record streak to 24 consecutive made field goals. Dawson made kicks from 47, 43, 35 and 21 yards. . .
Cornerback Tarell Brown returned to action after missing three games after sustaining internal damage in his ribs area on Nov. 17 against the New Orleans Saints. Tramaine Brock held onto the starting job, but Brown replaced Eric Wright as the 49ers’ third cornerback. Brown surrendered an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jackson late in the second quarter. . .
Guard Mike Iupati sat out his fourth game with a partially torn MCL in his left knee. Adam Snyder made the starter. Iupati is expected to return to action next Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons. . .
Rookie tight end Vance McDonald sat out with an ankle sprain. Garrett Celek, returning from a four-game absence due to a hamstring strain, took over as the 49ers’ No. 2 tight end. . .
The 49ers had been outscored 79-15 with no touchdowns in their three previous trips to Tampa Bay, dating back to Steve Mariucci’s coaching debut at the beginning of the 1997 season. . .
Looking ahead: The 49ers will play the final regular-season game at Candlestick Park next Monday night when they host the Atlanta Falcons. DeBartolo said he will attend the game, along with Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Dwight Clark and others. “In a different way, I left a lot of my heart and my blood, sweat and tears on that field, too,” DeBartolo said. The 49ers are scheduled to move into Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for the 2014 season.