"Frank's an amazing running back. I feel like he's the most underrated running back in the NFL. He does everything for our offense," Kaepernick said. "He runs the ball. If we ask him to block, he does it. If we ask him to catch a pass, he does it. What he means to this team and what he contributes really can't be quantified."
Gore 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."
The 10-minute drive Kaepernick led to one of Phil Dawson's four field goals and steadied the 49ers after Tampa Bay pulled within 20-14. Kendall Hunter put it well out of reach, scooping up a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and diving 2 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the 49ers moved closer to a playoff berth. They began the day needing a win, plus an Arizona loss combined with a loss or tie by Dallas or Philadelphia to clinch a spot with two weeks left in the regular season.
"This is when, as a team, you want to get good, this time of year. We're showing people that we're taking steps," Gore said. "We still haven't played our best game yet, and that's the scary part."
Tampa Bay closed within six points on Mike Glennon's TD pass to Tim Wright on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Bucs (4-10) didn't get the ball back until Kaepernick used 17 plays to move the 49ers 77 yards into position for Dawson to kick a 21-yard field goal that made it 23-14.
Kaepernick completed 19 of 29 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In addition to hurting Tampa Bay with his feet by running seven times for 39 yards, he threw TD passes of 4 yards to Crabtree and 52 yards to Davis, who finished with five receptions for 79 yards.
Glennon was 18 of 34 for 179 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. But the Bucs only managed 39 yards rushing and were limited to a season-low 183 total net yards.
"It's a tough loss. A hard-fought game. Unfortunate the way it ended," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.
Vincent Jackson scored on an 11-yard reception to trim a 17-0 deficit to 10 points just before halftime. Glennon's 24-yard pass to Wright finished a 10-play, 92-yard drive that gave Tampa Bay hopes of pulling an upset.
But the Niners would have none of it.
Kaepernick kept San Francisco's long fourth-quarter march going 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. The drive eventually stalled at the 3, where the 49ers settled for Dawson's kick.
Eric Page fielded the ensuing kickoff, started up one side before heading across the field where he attempted to hand the ball to Russell Shepard on a reverse. Shepard lost the ball as he slipped to the ground, and Hunter made a nice to play to scoop it up on the run and score for a 30-14 lead.