Sunday was a different story for Tampa Bay's 2009 first-round pick out of Kansas State. Unlike his first two starts, Freeman's outing vs. the undefeated New Orleans Saints resembled that of a rookie.
Freeman completed 17-of-33 passes for 126 yards and threw one touchdown while tossing three interceptions en route to Tampa Bay's 38-7 loss to New Orleans.
With Freeman under center, the Bucs generated just 219 yards of offense. Unfortunately, Freeman's 18-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Michael Clayton on the opening drive wasn't a sign of things to come for Tampa Bay.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Freeman went on to turn the ball over a total of four times (three interceptions and one fumble on a sack), which led to 17 points for the Saints. Freeman finished the game with a 33.1 quarterback rating.
When asked about Freeman's step back, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said his rookie quarterback would have to learn from the mistakes he made Sunday.
"He's going to fight through these things," said Morris. "Josh has to find a way to fight through it and getter better. He can't throw that interception near the end of the game. He has to find a way to move the ball when we have to. He's got to find a way to pick up the tempo and deal with all the adversity you're talking about. He's done a nice job of handling adversity, so I think he'll learn from it and get better."
Freeman, 21, has deceiving mobility for a big signal caller. He has rushed 13 times for 90 yards. His best production has come out of the shotgun formation as opposed to taking snaps from under center. He and Bucs C Jeff Faine have had a few botched quarterback-center exchanges this season. Although those mishaps didn't occur vs. the Saints, Morris was asked why Freeman appears to be more comfortable - and successful - in the shotgun.
"I don't think he's struggling come out of center, I think he's more comfortable working out of the shotgun," said Morris. "When you're in the shotgun you get to stand up, see the whole defense and really get into a rhythm. I think he's comfortable under center. He likes working under center. In college he was always under center. He started playing out of the shotgun late in his career. I don't think there's anything to that. He's comfortable doing both. He just didn't have a great day yesterday. He was off."
At 1-9, Tampa Bay is committed to playing and developing Freeman, which is frustrating to some of the team's players, including wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who was critical of offensive coordinator Greg Olson's play calling on Sunday.
"He's developing. Right now it just seems that's what we're going out there and developing Josh more than really trying to compete," Bryant told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune after Sunday's game.
"For the two weeks I sat out, it was like ‘Bombs away. Then today it's kind of like very, very conservative. I never felt like we made the adjustments we could have made, to go there and make the plays down the field to beat them deep. Especially with the situation given. They weren't even in their first team completely. That was kind of weird to me. But it is, what it is."
Bryant was referring to Tampa Bay's game plan, which allowed he and fellow starting WR Michael Clayton to combine for just five catches despite the fact that the Saints were without both of their starting cornerbacks due to injuries.
"We knew we were going to get Cover 2, which is what we got," said Morris. "We had success running the football. Not that you can't, but I just chose not to with those guys. I wanted to run the football and take some shots downfield. We were just off. We were off with our passing unit and we were off with our quarterback.
"Antonio is entitled to his opinion. We've got to develop Josh, there's no question about that. But the game plan is to go out there and try to win and beat people. We were trying to run the ball and keep [Saints quarterback] Drew Brees off the field. That was a part of it as well. We didn't want to get our young quarterback involved in a shootout. That wouldn't be fair to him or our team."
Morris wasn't just critical of Freeman. He blamed himself for Tampa Bay's time management woes towards the end of the first half in each of the Bucs' last two games.
The Bucs have attempted to drive the field and score at the end of each half against Miami and New Orleans, and those decisions have come back to bite Tampa Bay, evidenced by the fact that its defense has surrendered scores after the Bucs' offensive drives have stalled and failed to run time off the clock before halftime.
Morris suggested he might have to temper his enthusiasm when it comes to his rookie signal caller, who leads the 29th-ranked offense in the NFL.
"That's definitely on me,''said Morris. "That's something you want to do. The confidence you have in the young man, in the kid, just giving him an opportunity to go out there and win. If you had a big-time stud like we think we're going to have here sooner or later you want to go down there and attack them and try to steal three.
"The clock management, as far as running the clock out, we could've gone to halftime probably and gotten some of that time off and knocked some of that stuff out of there. But you've just got so much confidence in the young man, you just never know when it's going to come. Because you've seen it happen the last couple of weeks. It just didn't happen for him yesterday. That's on me. Completely. That's my decision. Those are things I can say to call off the dogs. But when you're playing a team like the Saints and you have an opportunity to go down and get three, I was trying to steal it. I probably shouldn't have. I probably shouldn't have played so aggressive. That's a question mark completely for me right there."
Freeman has completed 49-of-96 (51 percent) of his passes for 543 yards and tossed five touchdowns and five interceptions while getting sacked 10 times in three NFL starts.
Sunday's performance against the Saints can be chalked up to growing pains for Tampa Bay's rookie quarterback. The most important thing for Freeman to do, according to Morris, is learn from those mistakes and continue to grow.
"He went out there and committed his first real rookie blunder yesterday,'' Morris said of Freeman, who threw a bad interception late in the fourth quarter. "He knew it right away when he came to the sideline. It was a rookie mistake and he didn't try to blame anybody else for it. The best thing he did was he accepted responsibility for what he did. That's all you can ask from a rookie quarterback. He'll be a better quarterback today because of it."