Freeman can't keep up with 'other' guy
The Bucs are now a .500 football team. And, in the way of the NFL, Josh Freeman is a .500 quarterback. He played like that Sunday.

No, he didn't get much help from his once-potent running attack or his fading pass protectors in a convincing 31-23 loss to the Broncos. But Freeman threw the pivotal pass of the game, one that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown to blow it open a mile wide in Mile High. That was the story – that and the Broncos quarterback.

"The bottom line is execution," Freeman said. "There was a span in there where we weren't executing and the same time, the guy on the other side, they were rolling."

"The other guy," Peyton Manning, won his 150th regular-season game as a starting quarterback, the second most in league history. He threw a touchdown to a Denver defensive lineman . Later, under pressure, on third and short, nearly out of bounds near the Bucs sideline, Manning outdid even himself when he threw a completion to running back Knowshon Moreno … who was sitting on his rump at the time.

Bucs coach Greg Schiano, startled, congratulated Manning. "That's the first time I've ever had an opposing coach tell me it was a good play in the middle of the game," Manning said.

By the way, Manning and little brother Eli have now both been bum rushed by the Bucs while taking a knee. Congratulations, Greg!

Josh Freeman was the other guy Sunday. He completed six of eight passes for 94 yards in the first quarter, he was better than Manning, as the Bucs grabbed a 10-7 lead. They still led 10-7 at halftime, but things had already begun to come apart. Manning was warming up. Freeman was cooling down.

Understand, the Broncos are the hottest team in the league, having won seven in a row. They're also Top 10 in nearly every defensive category. Broncos linebacker Von Miller is extraordinary. And then there is Manning. Most any quarterback, ever, suffers by comparison.

Still, it was a bad day for Freeman. He completed only 18 of 39 throws. He found Vincent Jackson only three times. He missed a lot. A late flurry of completions gave him deceiving totals, 242 yards of passing, just five fewer than Manning, but in the third quarter, on which this game turned, in which Broncos beat the Bucs 21-0, Freeman went missing, completing only three of 12 passes for 26 yards.

Meanwhile, Manning, given an opening, drove Denver to two scores, finishing both with touchdowns to turn a 10-7 hole into a 21-10 lead. It was Freeman's turn. Smacked but good as he threw, he was picked off by Miller, who took it in for a 28-10 Broncos lead. "The type of swing that Pick Sixes are from a momentum standpoint, from a points standpoint, it's tough to overcome," Freeman said.

Schiano put the best face on 5's day: "I thought when he had ample time, I thought he played well. …The Pick Six, he got hit, that wasn't his throw, that a throw induced by a hit. ...I thought he competed through some tough, tough competition and some tough hits."

But Denver, like Atlanta last week, stuffed Doug Martin and the Bucs run game (21 carries, 71 yards), brought the pass rush and dared Freeman to beat them behind his now-crumbling offensive line. Josh Freeman better get used to that. Denver corners dropped far back in coverage to stymie the deep ball, betting Freeman's intermediate game wouldn't be enough. It wasn't Sunday.

Bucs touchdowns are suddenly being replaced by Bucs field goals, and it shows in the win-loss column. Being the quarterback, being the guy, is about overcoming, no matter what's thrown your way. Manning went through a stretch like that Sunday, but when the opportunity presented itself after halftime, he walked right through the door. Josh Freeman couldn't. Whether or not it was from a lack of help, he couldn't close the deal.

"It was tough day for a stretch," Freeman said. "You've got to find a way to make the plays, and the plays you make you've got to maximize them. And we just found a way to beat ourselves, in a way."

The Bucs are .500. Their quarterback is, too. That's how it works.

About the writer
Martin Fennelly has been The Tampa Tribune's leading sports columnist for many years and is always on hand with a topical and witty opinion on any Florida sporting event. He was named the Bucs UK's Writer of the Year four consecutive years from 2001 to 2004.