Numbers nice, but Freeman wants more
Maybe in few weeks, Josh Freeman finally will take pride in the fact he had a record-setting season. He certainly wasn't ready on Sunday, not even after a 22-17 victory against the Falcons.
Personal records, Freeman said, are not what he plays for. He plays for the chance to win championships and the fact he won't do that for the fourth time in his four-year pro career weighed on him.
Even as teammates smiled and spoke of the positive vibe they'll carry into the offseason as a result of breaking a five-game losing streak, Freeman expressed disappointment in the Bucs' 7-9 season.
"It's pretty similar to last year, really, because in the back of your mind you're still thinking about not making the playoffs,'' Freeman said, referring to the team's 4-12 record in 2011. "In that way, this year is very similar to last year.''
In several other ways, however, it is not. This was a record-setting year not only for Freeman, the 2009 first-round draft pick out of Kansas State, but the entire Bucs offense.
The Bucs set a single-season franchise records with 5,820 total yards and 389 points.
Freeman became the first 4,000-yard passer in team history, finishing with 4,065, and set franchise records for touchdown passes in a season (27) and a career (78). Not that he was gloating over those marks.
He gave credit to teammates, including the offensive linemen, running back Doug Martin, receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams and tight end Dallas Clark.
"They're really all team records to me, because they're mostly a result of the O-line giving me time to throw and Vincent, Doug, Mike and Dallas Clark all making the catches. So, I'm really just focused on getting ready for the offseason now.''
It was believed Freeman's offseason might be spent, at least in part, negotiating a contract aimed at securing Freeman's services for the foreseeable future in Tampa Bay. But that might not happen.
After an inconsistent season in which he struggled near the end before bouncing back with a solid game Sunday, the Bucs could wait until late in 2013 or maybe even 2014 before attempting to re-sign Freeman. He remains under contract for the 2013 season.
Still, Sunday's performance, in which he completed 19 of 35 passes for 222 yards, one touchdown and one interception, was critical, not only to the Bucs but Freeman's future. The bounce-back game and the records Freeman set are indications he can lead the team to the postseason, in which the Bucs have not participated since 2007.
"My hat's off to Josh, because a lot of people were down on him,'' left tackle Donald Penn said. "The last couple weeks, people have been down on him and down on him and he's taken a lot of criticism.
"But Josh, he just came in smiling, came in working the same way every day, and I'm so happy he came out and played a good game today, because he's a fighter and he fought through all that stuff and he's going to be better for it."
Freeman threw eight interceptions through the first 13 games of the season, but threw four in each of the two games prior to Sunday's finale. He was better against the Falcons because he didn't try too hard to make plays, head coach Greg Schiano said.
"I thought Josh performed well,'' Schiano said. "Like any quarterback, there were one or two plays he'd like to have back, but he played well in the system, trusted his training and did a good job.''