Nothing pretty, but Bucs could be on to something
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 20 September 2010|
You can see the mountain, the NFL quarterback mountain, see Josh Freeman climbing a little higher each week, doing this better, that better – and you see him win.
He did it again Sunday in a 20-7 win over Carolina, did it with his arm and his legs and, above all, his head. He helped make the Bucs 2-0, and in the very same stadium where he had the worst game of his rookie season, a five-interception nightmare. This was a different quarterback. And a different feeling.
"No doubt," Freeman said.
Including last season, the Bucs have now won four of their past five games, with Freeman growing up right in front of us. It's not just what he does, it's what he doesn't do, namely act his 22 years. He has studied hard, learned, slowed things down in games. He knows where to go and when.
Take it from Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who had another interception Sunday. The man has feasted upon some young guns across the years. In Freeman, Barber doesn't see a guy with only 11 career starts. He sees a veteran presence, a limitless sky.
"Oh, man, he's smarter, football-wise, then he was last year," Barber said. "How many balls did you see him throw away today or see him run, to get out of it what he could?"
At Carolina last season, Josh Freeman's titanium right arm tried to force footballs. He threw two picks in the end zone, one near the goal line, two others inside the 20 yard line.near it He cost the Bucs the game.
Look at Sunday. Freeman completed only 12 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. But in a way it was the passes he threw away rather than risk a mistake, or the times he tucked the ball and ran – oh, did he run – that were more impressive.
"I still want to be aggressive and make plays, but at the same time knowing when and when not to take chances helped us," Freeman said. "I made a comment to someone on the sideline that last year he would have tried to fit (balls) in there and use his arm strength," Barber said. "It's all part of the maturation process. He's grown quick."
He was already big and tall and strong. In the first quarter, on a third-and-11 from the Carolina 31-yard line, Freeman kept the ball and rolled for 17 yards and a first down. The next play, he threw a touchdown pass to a wide open Earnest Graham.
At 6-6 and 248 pounds, Freeman can make defensive backs think they're standing on train tracks and here comes the No. 5 express.
"I'd say my size is a little more shocking than my speed," Freeman said with a slight smile.
Then, in the second quarter, were moments that put the Bucs ahead to stay. On third-and-17 from his own 25, Freeman rolled right. Two Panthers defensive linemen tried to get him. The second one, "I thought he was going to get me," Freeman said. Neither did.
Near the right sideline, Freeman threw a 40-yard dart to fellow physical freak Kellen Winslow, who grabbed it. The next play, Freeman found old, reliable (make that young, reliable) Mike Williams, who broke three tackles on the way to his weekly touchdown.
Freeman's decision making jumped out. Except for one late, dangerous third-and-9 pass for Williams in the left flat (Freeman apparently heard the play wrong in his helmet), No. 5 was all about control, his marching orders, especially this week, from Bucs coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
As for the running …
"I'm so happy he learned to slide this year," Morris said.
The head coach flashed a 2-0 grin. He deserved it. So did his team. And so did 5.
"The steps he keeps taking forward, it's huge," Bucs center Jeff Faine said.
Olson sees a Freeman who calculates risk vs. reward better.
"He's grown so much," Olson said. "There have been a couple of all-out blitzes these first two games where he has known exactly where to go right away. A year ago, he might have frozen a little. But even when he came in a year ago, everybody said there's something about him, there's something about Josh."
And now there's more. No doubt.