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Six Quarters, Six Points


The 49ers defense is greedy. It seems no game ball is safe when the red and gold uniforms are on the field.

Sunday's story was no different, as the 49ers defense created three takeaways while allowing just three points, leading the team to a convincing 48-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Candlestick Park.

Aside from showcasing their ability to derail an offense once again, the 49ers relied on their depth.   

With starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and cornerback Tramaine Brock inactive, the 49ers called on a couple of young replacements to help fill the voids. After 60 minutes of work, it was clear Pierre Garçon and Chris Culliver were up to the task.

"It was a big thing to contribute to the defense," Jean Francois said. "A lot of people had been doubting us because (Sopoaga) was out … but we had no fall off."

Jean Francois, the 6-foot-3, 310-pound nose tackle in his third year out of LSU, made his first career start in Sopoaga's stead. No matter that the Bucs featured one of the league's toughest runners, tailback LeGarrette Blount, the 49ers weren't budging one bit.

Blount was limited to just 34 yards and the Bucs could only manage a first-quarter field goal all afternoon, as the 49ers still haven't given up a rushing touchdown all season. On Sunday, Jean Francois was front and center at the point of attack.

"(Jean Francois) is one of the strongest guys on our team," defensive captain Joe Staley said. "It's phenomenal to see him go out there and play the way he did today and just to have a guy of his character that will go out there and do anything you ask of him."

Dating back to last week, the 49ers have only given up six points in the last six quarters. It's hard for opponents to score when they can't hold on to the ball.

On Sunday, both Carlos Rogers and Culliver recorded interceptions, while safety Dashon Goldson recorded a forced fumble by de-cleating Bucs wideout Mike Wiliams in the third quarter. For the season, the 49ers tote a turnover differential of plus-10.

"We have a secondary full of ball hawks, everyone's around the ball," Goldson said. "We're around the football a lot and we got to keep doing that. It's paying off."

Goldson and Rogers attributed much of the secondary's success to the coaching staff, which has the defensive backs stick around after practice to work on their ball skills.

Whereas Culliver's pick was the first of his NFL career, Rogers notched his third straight game with an interception.

But unlike his previous two interceptions, Rogers was able to turn it in to six points on Sunday, using a 31-yard return to put the 49ers up 14-3 in the second quarter. Rogers dropped into the left flat in zone coverage and cut under intended target Kellen Winslow, before stabbing the ball out of mid-air and cutting across the field to reach the end zone past the right pylon.

"When you take the life out of an offense like that, it's big," Rogers said.

Feeling a bit inspired by Rogers, his mentor and teammate, the rookie Culliver only had one thing on his mind once he recorded his interception to kill Tampa Bay's next drive.

"I was thinking touchdown," said Culliver, who was used as the 49ers nickel back on Sunday.

Culliver, who was a prolific return man during his college days at South Carolina, only managed a 23-yard return on his pick, but it set up a five-play, 57-yard touchdown drive by the 49ers offense. Frank Gore punched the ball in from two yards out on the final play of the series, giving the 49ers a 21-3 lead.

Tarell Brown earned the start at right cornerback for Brock and broke up a few passes on Sunday, as Donte Whitner also returned to the starting lineup after missing last week's contest in Philadelphia.

Understandably, the mood was bright in the 49ers locker room following the game. Among the happiest 49ers in the room were undrafted rookies Demarcus Dobbs and Ian Williams, who made their NFL debuts on Sunday.

The two were ribbing each other after the contest, with Dobbs taking satisfaction in entering the game earlier than Williams.

"(The coaches) should have waited a game for (Williams). They didn't really need him out there," Dobbs joked.

Jokes aside, both players said they were grateful to get an opportunity they've been working for all their lives. The two also lined up together on the 49ers final defensive series, with a 45-point lead in tow.

"It was great, man," Williams said.  "It was a total team effort. I'm just proud of the guys that we can have a win like this and pick it up even more. We've got Detroit this week, so we got to back to studying."

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