TAMPA – Quarterback Josh Freeman looked like a first-round draft pick on Tampa Bay’s opening scoring drive as he coolly guided his team 95 yards for a touchdown to take an early, 7-0 lead over the visiting New Orleans Saints.
But after that possession, Freeman’s game unraveled and he looked every bit like a struggling, rookie quarterback who was in over his head while missing open receivers on third down, throwing three interceptions and fumbling the ball deep in Tampa Bay territory. Those gaffes helped New Orleans score 38 unanswered points to prevail 38-7 and send Tampa Bay to 1-9 on the season.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris chalked up Freeman’s performance, which was 17-of-33 for 126 yards with three picks and one touchdown, to just a bad day at the office.
“You expect it,” Morris said of his rookie quarterback. “We were living in a fantasy world a little bit there the last two weeks with him being able to come back and strike like he was able to do. Today, he was just off his throws. He didn’t have his rhythm. He was never able to get into a rhythm. He just didn’t have it where he wanted it to go, especially on third down early in the game. On third down, we had a bunch of manageable third downs. That’s where you would like to be. We weren’t able to run the football on this team, which we thought we would be able to do. Once you got out of that game plan, we just wanted to be in a manageable third down, continue to move the chains, keep Drew Brees off the field, let them eat up clock, really stay in the game.”
That didn’t happen, and Freeman acknowledged that he was off while throwing the football. Yet the rookie quarterback revealed that he had a good week of practice and couldn’t put a finger on why he was inaccurate on Sunday.
“Coming into this game, we knew how potent their offense was and we knew the best defense was for our offense to sustain drives,” Freeman said. “The tough thing is that it only lasted our first drive. … I was just a little off and couldn’t get into rhythm.
“I felt great coming out of this week of practice. I felt good and in rhythm and was putting the ball right where I wanted it. It’s a game of inches and today I was a hair off. I don’t see that as a problem in the future. It’s not something that I am going into next week saying, ‘Oh man, I hope I’m not a hair off.’ I just have to keep throwing it.”
Two of Freeman’s turnovers – an interceptions and a fumble – came in Tampa Bay territory in the second and third quarters, and gave New Orleans a short field to work with. The Saints were able to take a 10-7 lead with 4:11 left before halftime after an interception by rookie defensive back Malcolm Jenkins.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was able to drive the Saints to another score and throw the second of his three touchdowns as he hit wide receiver Robert Meachem for a 6-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left to put Tampa Bay down 17-7 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Freeman fumbled when sacked by linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive end Anthony Hargrove recovered for New Orleans at the Tampa Bay 15. Three plays later, Brees hit tight end David Thomas, who had four catches for 66 yards, for an 11-yard touchdown pass to widen the lead to 24-7 with 10:36 left in the third quarter. After that, there was no hope of a Buccaneers comeback.
Tampa Bay’s receivers didn’t do much to help Freeman out by getting open, nor did the offensive line, which allowed two of the team’s three sacks and failed to open enough holes for any Buccaneer to rush for more than 32 yards against New Orleans.
“It’s going to happen sometimes and that’s when you need the rest of the team to step up,” said Michael Clayton, who scored Tampa Bay’s only touchdown on the day and caught his first TD of the season. “That’s what makes a good caliber football team and we weren’t able to do that tonight. When we are, we’ll be a better football team to help him out and do the things that we can control as a team to help his progress in being a big-league quarterback. He definitely has all the ability, but we can’t expect for him to be on his P’s and Q’s every single night. Unfortunately, we couldn’t give him more help.”
Even the return of franchise player Antonio Bryant from a knee injury wasn’t enough to help Freeman. Bryant only caught three passes for 40 yards and slipped on a route in the second half that led to Freeman’s interception by Jenkins. Tight end Kellen Winslow wasn’t much help either, although he did lead the Bucs in catches with five for 29 yards.
Once again, Tampa Bay’s defense was futile in stopping a high-powered offense – or any offense for that matter. The defense allowed the Bucs to be out-gained by the Saints 370-219 yards, surrendered a season-high 38 points, gave up 183 yards rushing and failed to record a sack or a turnover.
Poor quarterback play, a minus-four turnover margin and terrible execution by the defense will lead any team to defeat, but that certainly is a recipe for failure for a less talented team like Tampa Bay, and it is a recipe that has been cooked up too many times this year by the Buccaneers.
Freeman engineered Tampa Bay’s first touchdown drive on its initial series in any game this year when he led the Buccaneers 95 yards in 12 plays to help his team take an early, 7-0 game. Freeman converted two big third downs on the drive, throwing an 8-yard pass to Winslow on third-and-2 at the Bucs’ 13-yard line, and rushing for 15 yards on third-and-13 from the 35-yard line. Earnest Graham also rushed for 29 yards on two carries to help move the chains. On third-and-7 from the 18, Freeman escaped pressure and hit a wide-open Clayton in the back right corner of the end zone for a touchdown. With 4:52 left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay led 7-0.
The Saints would rally back at the end of the first quarter with running back Pierre Thomas and tight end David Thomas leading the way. Thomas, the halfback, rushed for 12 yards on three carries while Thomas, the tight end, lit up the Bucs for catches of 37 yards and five yards to get New Orleans down to the 4-yard line. On first-and-goal from the 4, Brees hit Meachem for a touchdown pass on a crossing route against linebacker Geno Hayes. The Saints’ scoring drive covered 68 yards in seven plays and with 1:04 left in the first quarter, the game was tied 7-7.
Midway through the second quarter, Freeman would throw a costly interception to rookie defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, which returned the pick to the Tampa Bay 29 after a miscommunication between the rookie QB and Antonio Bryant. Yet the Saints could only drive nine plays in four yards and had to settle for a 38-yard John Carney field goal. With 4:11 left before halftime, New Orleans led 10-7.
The Saints would add another touchdown on the scoreboard just before halftime with wide receiver Marques Colston doing most of the damage with three catches for 57 yards – most of which came against middle linebacker Barrett Ruud in quarters coverage. New Orleans covered 63 yards in five plays, and on first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 6, Brees hit Meachem with a 6-yard touchdown pass. With 28 seconds left in the second quarter, the Saints’ lead increased to 17-7.
Freeman was sacked from the blindside by Fujita on Tampa Bay’s initial drive and forced a fumble on the play that was recovered by Hargrove at the Bucs’ 15-yard line. Three plays later on third-and-6 from the 11-yard line, Brees found David Thomas for a touchdown to put New Orleans up 24-7 with 10:36 left in the third quarter.
Freeman’s second interception ended another Tampa Bay drive in the third quarter when his pass for Clayton was too high and hit middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma in the chest. Vilma returned the pick to the Saints’ 45-yard line where New Orleans would begin a 55-yard scoring march.
Tampa Bay’s run defense was severely gashed by Thomas, who ripped off an 18-yard run, and Mike Bell, who despite getting flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, had gains of 43 yards and 13 yards before scoring from three yards out. With 4:50 left in the third quarter, New Orleans’ lead swelled to 31-7.
New Orleans padded its lead in the fourth quarter, capping off an 82-yard, 13-play drive with a 1-yard TD plunge by Bell, who rushed for 21 yards on the possession. But it was Thomas who did the most damage on the drive, rushing for 49 yards on four plays. With 10:12 left in regulation, the Bucs trailed 38-7.PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME
No Tampa Bay player distinguished himself against New Orleans on Sunday and proved deserving of PewterReport.com Player of the Game honors as the team fell, 38-7, to the Saints. IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Theoretically, once Tampa Bay was down 17-7 to the undefeated New Orleans Saints at halftime, this game was over. But the nail was put in the coffin in the third quarter when quarterback Josh Freeman was sacked by linebacker Scott Fujita on a blindside blitz and fumbled the ball. New Orleans recovered at the Tampa Bay 15 and three plays later, Drew Brees hit tight end David Thomas for an 11-yard touchdown to give the Saints a commanding 24-7 lead.STATS THAT COUNT
The Bucs wore their red jersey and white pants combination for the first time this year. … Rookie fullback Chris Pressley played in his first NFL game and got his first start in place of Earnest Graham, who had 31 yards rushing on three attempts. … Cadillac Williams led the Bucs in rushing with 32 yards on 11 carries. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led the Bucs with 10 tackles. … The Bucs’ 95-yard scoring march was the longest drive of the season to produce points. … Tight end Kellen Winslow’s five catches give him 47 on the year, which is second behind Jackie Harris’ 62 for a Tampa Bay tight end in a single season. Winslow’s 47 receptions leads the team. … Antonio Bryant played in his 100th career game on Sunday. … Clifton Smith moved into fourth place past Torrie Cox on Tampa Bay’s kick return list. Smith now has 1,851 career yards and will likely move past Michael Morton (1,885 yards from 1982-84) into third place next week. … Cadillac Williams rushed for 32 yards on Sunday, giving him 2,867 yards in his career, which moved him past Errict Rhett (2,853 from 1994-97) for the seventh-most rushing yards in Bucs history. SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Michael Clayton
LT Donald Penn
LG Jeremy Zuttah
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Kellen Winslow
WR Antonio Bryant
FB Chris Pressley
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh FreemanBUCS STARTING DEFENSE
RE Tim Crowder
DT Ryan Sims
DT Chris Hovan
LE Jimmy Wilkerson
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Sabby PiscitelliMISSING IN ACTION
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:
QB Byron Leftwich (emergency QB)
WR Brian Clark
WR Yamon Figurs
G Shawn Murphy
OT James Lee
DE Dre Moore
CB Mike Mickensâ€¨CB Elbert MackBUCS' IN-GAME INJURIES
Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan injured his left arm in the first quarter and was replaced by rookie Roy Miller momentarily, but later returned. With 3:52 left in the third quarter, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood injured his right knee and was replaced by rookie Demar Dotson.KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Saints game at Raymond James Stadium was 62,720, although there were easily more than 15,000 empty seats. The kickoff temperature was 79 degrees under clear skies with 78 percent humidity and a feels-like temperature of 82 degrees.UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (1-9) will travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons (5-5) in the Georgia Dome on November 29. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. and will be televised on Fox.
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