TAMPA, Fla. -- Ahead by only six points in the fourth quarter, the San Francisco 49ers pulled away with a 17-play, 77-yard drive that melted more than 10 minutes off the clock.
It ended up an easy 33-14 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh could not say enough about a pair of third-down conversion quarterback Colin Kaepernick made in the long drive to take away so much of the final quarter.
"Kaepernick really put on his cape on a couple of those conversions," Harbaugh said. "I don't know how else to describe it. There's not a lot of people that can make those kind of plays that he was making, making with his feet, making with his arm, making with his head. Who's able to do that that's playing in this league? Very few guys."
San Francisco (10-4) dominated much of the game, but needed a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree and a 10-yard scramble by Kaepernick to stay on the field and keep the Bucs from getting any closer.
The next touchdown was a bit easier, and took six seconds. The Bucs attempted a lateral on the kickoff return, fumbled the exchange between Eric Page and Russell Shepard, and Kendall Hunter got the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown and a 30-14 lead with 4:21 left.
San Francisco controlled the game early on both sides of the ball. Aside from an offsides penalty, Tampa Bay (4-10) did not get a first down on offense until its fifth drive, going 0-for-5 on third downs in the opening half.
The 49ers, meanwhile, ran the ball with ease, getting 93 yards in the first half between running backs Frank Gore and Hunter, and Kaepernick. San Francisco got a 4-yard touchdown from Kaepernick to Crabtree for a 7-0 lead.
Kaepernick was sharp throughout the first half -- 11 of 13 for 148 yards -- but his best throw came on a 52-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis, who beat safety Mark Barron and caught the throw in stride for a 17-0 lead with 1:47 left in the half.
"Kaepernick's a good athlete, and they've got some really good receivers," Bucs cornerback Johnthan Banks said. "A team like that, you've got to get off the field on third down. A good quarterback like that can make things happen with his legs, and he did."
The Bucs, held to 29 yards until two minutes left in the first half, woke up and struck for an 80-yard touchdown drive just before halftime. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon went five of six for 57 yards on the drive, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Vincent Jackson to cut the lead to 17-7.
"They did a really good blanket coverage, keeping everything in front of them," Jackson said. "They don't give up big plays, and they have good athletes to come up and make the tackles for them."
The Bucs trailed 20-7 late in the third quarter when Glennon again found a spark. He went eight of nine for 89 yards and hit rookie tight end Tim Wright for a 24-yard touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 20-14 with 14:50 left in the fourth quarter.
The win keeps San Francisco in strong position for a wild card, with a half-game lead over the Carolina Panthers and 1 1/2-game advantage over the Arizona Cardinals.
"They're a great football team," Bucs corner Darrelle Revis said. "He's a great athlete, and they beat us. ... They made great plays. There's nothing you can really say. We made some missed tackles and it cost us. We knew this was going to be a physical game."
What the 49ers said
"There were some good scramble lanes for him and he took advantage of him. Those are just great, athletic plays that he made. It was a big-time performance by the quarterback." -- Coach Jim Harbaugh on quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
What the Buccaneers said
"It was a tough loss, a hard-fought game. Unfortunate the way it ended. We had opportunities, without a doubt, to stop (49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick) and we didn't do it. That's what it boils down to." -- Coach Greg Schiano.
What we learned about the 49ers
1. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is gaining momentum much like he did at the end of last season. Kaepernick threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns, ran for another 39 yards and had zero turnovers in collecting his 10th win of the year. San Francisco may be a wild card, but it will be a team opponents do not want to face in January.
2. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith is getting back to his old ways. Smith had a pair of sacks against Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon and another three quarterback hurries, keeping the Bucs from having time for any rhythm in the passing game.
What we learned about the Buccaneers
1. The offense has very little consistency moving the ball. There were flashes on two touchdown drives, but they were more the exception Sunday, with just two first downs and 11 offensive yards on the other eight drives. Especially early, it took away any energy the crowd had in Tampa Bay's final home game of 2013.
2. The defense needs turnovers to control a game. The Bucs came in leading the NFL in interceptions and total takeaways, but could not get any breaks, with two fumbles popping out on the sideline and bouncing out of bounds.