Teammates still behind Freeman
Bucs players found it easy to cope with the variety of mistakes rookie quarterback Josh Freeman made Sunday against the New York Jets. Instead of focusing on his numerous miscues, they were more optimistic about what he might have learned from the mishaps during the 26-3 loss.

"These are experiences he will be able to draw from in the future," Bucs center Jeff Faine said. "It's unfortunate it's coming at the team's expense right now, but he's part of this team and it's something we're really building around here, the franchise for the future."

Hope for the future is helping players deal with the present. Freeman completed 14 of 33 passes for 93 yards, threw three interceptions and he had a career-low passer rating of 12.1. He fumbled once and was sacked three times. During Freeman's past two games, he has thrown eight interceptions and has 13 in his six starts.

"To tell you the truth, that's all we're doing (trying to help Freeman improve). That's all we have to look forward to," Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow said. "We have to stay healthy and get this guy going so we can get going. He knows that and we have to do a better job of getting him there to push him. We need to get him to the point where we don't want to make a mistake in front of him."

Freeman's mistakes started on the first play of the game. He dropped back from Tampa Bay's 31-yard line and attempted a pass to Antonio Bryant, which was intercepted by Jets linebacker David Harris. Three plays later, Jay Feely made a 40-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Freeman's struggles continued as he fumbled on Tampa Bay's next possession, and when the Bucs later faced third-and-5 on their own 35-yard line, Freeman received a delay-of-game penalty. Freeman completed a 5-yard pass to Winslow on the next play, but the Bucs were forced to punt. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay did not record a first down until the third quarter.

"It's all on me. I'm the quarterback," Freeman said. "I've got to find a way to go in and look at these protections and get something done. Faine makes some of the calls, I make some of the calls. I need to get to the point where I go out and see what I see and make all the calls.

"One time I made a call, Faine out to the left, and he made a call to slide right. It's one of those things where we need to be on the same page. A lot of those things can be cleaned up."

Players are optimistic Freeman will have a spotless performance in the future and become Tampa Bay's franchise player. Positive thoughts of next year are the only way they're coping with this season.

"You look at Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. They all struggled sometime. It's going to happen," Winslow said. "You just got to grow from it. Now look at them. They're throwing 40 touchdowns a year, but those guys with them have been together a long time and I really see something special here in the future. It doesn't show right now, but it will. I promise. I see it. I feel it."

Anwar Richardson, The Tampa Tribune 14 December 2009