Dashon Goldson appears possessed. The 49ers' safety was among quite a few free agents forced to swallow their pride when the post-lockout market failed to materialize as expected. Goldson's loss has been the 49ers' gain. He's playing angry and ticking off opponents with his aggressive play. Goldson decked Bucs receiver Micheal Spurlock after Spurlock got up to chase down 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver during an interception return. He delivered the biggest hit of the game on Bucs receiver Mike Williams, sticking his shoulder in Williams' chest to force a fumble. Goldson drew a penalty for unnecessary roughness early in the fourth quarter.
Watershed game for the secondary. The 49ers appeared to dive deeper into their playbooks while building up their big lead. They went vanilla later, when the game was decided, coach Jim Harbaugh said. The way the defensive play translated to aggressive, decisive coverage in the secondary stood out from the beginning. Sometimes it seemed as though the 49ers' defensive backs knew their opponents' plays as well as the Bucs knew them. The team finished the game with nine passes defensed, three apiece by Culliver and Tarell Brown. Safety Reggie Smith broke up a pass for Kellen Winslow Jr. Carlos Rogers' interception and 31-yard touchdown return provided another example.
The run blocking took a step forward. One of the more frustrating plays for the Bucs had to come when the 49ers lined up with two backs and two tight ends on a second-and-15 play. The personnel and I-formation screamed that a running play would likely follow. Tampa Bay put nine defenders in the box (extended beyond the right tackle to account for both tight ends on that side of the formation). Fullback Bruce Miller led into the left side of the offensive line, attracting a crowd. Frank Gore busted up the middle and into the secondary, gaining 18 yards. How frustrating it must be for an opponent when a team lines up in 22 personnel and converts on second-and-15 with a running play up the gut.
Smith hurt the Bucs multiple ways. One of the Bucs' defensive players complained to 49ers left tackle Joe Staley that quarterback Alex Smith was getting rid of the ball too quickly, making it tough to get sacks (Tampa Bay had none). Smith's three touchdown passes validated the complaints. On the first one, Smith lined up in the shotgun, faked a handoff and threw quickly on perfect rhythm for tight end Delanie Walker. Smith took a three-step drop on his second scoring pass, throwing quickly for Vernon Davis, who broke a tackle at the 8-yard line. Smith used a three-step drop on his third scoring pass as well, this one a quick lob for Davis in the end zone. Smith's footwork and timing were often excellent. He also appeared more instinctive in avoiding pressure. He ducked pressure on one play, tucked the ball away briefly as he escaped and then threw quickly toward the sideline. He missed Walker after scrambling on another play, but he kept his eyes downfield, giving him a chance.
The Bucs' Sean Jones can expect a fine. The 49ers' Kendall Hunter was clearly down when Jones came rushing into the pile and drove his helmet into Hunter's helmet. The play drew a 15-yard penalty and should appear in future officiating videos as an example of dangerous plays. Hunter was fortunate to emerge with no apparent damage.
I also took a closer look at the sacks Aldon Smith and Justin Smith collected. One came after Josh Freeman held the ball too long. Two others came later in the game, after Justin Smith in particular appeared to have worn down Bucs left tackle Donald Penn. Pressure usually sets up a secondary to make plays, but as noted in the second observation, it seemed like the 49ers' secondary took the lead in this game.