The defending NFC champions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33-14 for their fourth straight victory Sunday, with their third-year quarterback controlling the game with his feet as well as his arm.
Kaepernick threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He also rushed for 39 yards, with his two biggest runs coming on third down, when the 49ers needed them most.
''Kap had a monster game,'' coach Jim Harbaugh said. ''... Some of those escapes from the pocket with guys grabbing at him - the shoulders, the legs; he's kicking out of tackles and picking up first downs, three, four, five times in the game. And then some incredible out-of-the-pocket throws and first-down conversions.''
Kaepernick's inconsistency has been an issue this season, however he protected the football and made play after play against the Bucs (4-10), who trailed 20-14 before San Francisco (10-4) put together a long, clock-exhausting, fourth-quarter drive that doused any hopes Tampa Bay had of pulling an upset.
''That's Kap. He can do whatever. He can throw, he can run,'' running back Frank Gore said. ''A lot of guys in the league can't do that. Once it's said and done, he will be one of the top quarterbacks in this league.''
Vernon Davis caught a touchdown pass for the fifth straight game, Michael Crabtree scored his first TD since returning from an injury that sidelined him the first 11 games, and Phil Dawson kicked four more field goals to extend his franchise-record streak of consecutive successful attempts to 24.
Kaepernick completed 19 of 29 passes without an interception. He kept alive a 17-play, 77-yard drive with a 12-yard pass to Crabtree on third-and-12, then scrambled for 10 yards on third-and-6 for a first down at the Bucs 19. When the 10-minute, 27-second drive stalled at the 3, the 49ers settled for a 21-yard field goal that put them up 23-14.
''You want to take time off the clock when you can, especially in that situation,'' Kaepernick said. ''Our offensive line did an amazing job, and our receivers and backs made plays.''
Kendall Hunter put the game out of reach, scooping up a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and diving 2 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
Five reasons the 49ers appear to be hitting their stride at the right time, while the Bucs came up short again against one of the league's better teams:
CLOSE BUT ... The Bucs closed within 20-14 on rookie Mike Glennon's TD pass to Tim Wright on the first play of the fourth quarter, but they didn't get the ball back until just 4:31 remained. Even then, they couldn't keep it, losing the fumble on the kickoff that sealed their fate.
Glennon finished 18 of 34 for 179 yards, two TDs and an interception. He threw TD passes of 11 yards to Vincent Jackson and 24 yards to Wright, but Tampa Bay was held to 39 yards rushing and a season-low 183 total net yards.
''Going against one of the top defenses in the league, as an offense we knew we were going to have to get the game into the fourth quarter, and we did that,'' Glennon said. ''Going against that kind of team, you have to be on the top of your game throughout the course of the game. Give them some credit. That was a great job by them in the fourth quarter.''
DEPENDABLE GORE: Frank Gore rushed for 86 yards to go over 1,000 in a season for the seventh time. He carried 22 times, hiking his season rushing total to 1,017 yards.
''It's a blessing. Ninth year in the league. Every year I hear the doubters, you know, 'Can you still do it?''' Gore said. ''I take it one year at a time. My coaches still believe in me. This organization still believes in me.''
YOU THROW IT, WE'LL CATCH IT: Davis had five receptions for 79 yards. Crabtree had five for 45 yards in his third game back from a torn right Achilles tendon.
A scrambling Kaepernick missed Davis on a potential deep touchdown pass early in the game, but was on target on the 52-yard connection that made it 17-0 late in the second quarter.
''It was a heck of a throw. We had really good protection on the play,'' Harbaugh said. ''But the way Vernon extended and ran that ball down, it looked like Willie Mays running down a long fly ball to center field.''
STINGY 'D': In addition to limiting the Bucs to a season low for total yardage, the 49ers had four sacks and intercepted Glennon's last pass of the day.
WHERE DO WE STAND? The Bucs had won four of their previous five games following an 0-8 start. They're still looking for a signature win, though. It's anybody's guess what Sunday's double-digit loss means to the chances of coach Greg Schiano retaining his job.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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- San Francisco 49ers
- Colin Kaepernick
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Frank Gore
- Michael Crabtree