A week after Josh Freeman’s best NFL game, the Bucs’ first-round pick turned in his worst, throwing five interceptions – including three in the red zone – that cost Tampa Bay a chance to prevail in a 16-6 loss at Carolina. Freeman set career-highs with 23 completions, 44 attempts and 321 yards passing, but also set an unfortunate, new personal mark for interceptions with a handful.
“It was a tough loss and a tough day for the young man in the red zone,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said of Freeman. “Up until this point, he had been really great inside the red zone. Today, he just made some bad decisions that he knows he can’t make. Maybe he was trying to squeeze too many to A.B. (Antonio Bryant). He just has to make better decisions in the red zone and we have to come out of there with points.
“You’ve got to put a little on me, too. Maybe I should start running the ball in there and not have so much confidence in the kid. We’ll get better and better in those situations. We’ll be good.”
After the game, Freeman was accountable for the loss and lamented over his interceptions.
“We were inside their 30-yard line eight times and we came away with six points,” Freeman said. “That’s completely unacceptable.
“It was a terrible passing performance by me, especially in the red zone. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself, or any of the circumstances. I have to prepare to play the Jets next week.”
The red zone became the dead zone on Sunday for Tampa Bay, which entered the game as the second-best NFL team in the red zone. The Panthers’ stingy defense only allowed two field goals by Connor Barth, who missed his last two tries to deny the Bucs six more precious points, out of six possessions inside the red zone.
Tampa Bay’s offense moved the ball at will against Carolina, generating a season-high 469 yards of total offense, and punted only twice the entire game. Yet only had six points to show for it. Points were at a premium due to Freeman’s red zone mistakes, which were capitalized on by linebacker Jon Beason, who had two interceptions, and his Panthers teammates.
“I think Ollie called a great game,” Freeman said. “We were able to drive it down really at will. We had a big offensive game. The O-line was doing a great job of protection. … On a few of those plays I just didn’t put the ball where it needed to be.
“It’s a game of inches and today I was a few inches off.”
Bryant, who was squawking to the media during the week for more opportunities, got what he wanted in Carolina, catching a game-high five passes for 116 yards. But Freeman was attempting to force the ball to Bryant a few too many times, and both of Beason’s picks came as he was staring down Bryant.
Tampa Bay did find some success running the football in the second half and finished with 154 yards, which was the highest rushing output since running for 174 yards on opening day against Dallas. But like Freeman, the running game had its problems inside the red zone, as Tampa Bay couldn’t power the ball in for touchdowns when it was in the shadow of the end zone.
Carolina’s normally potent running game was without running back DeAngelo Williams, who had torched the Bucs for 338 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his last two games against Tampa Bay. Yet his understudy, second-year halfback Jonathan Stewart, picked up the slack rushing for 120 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries.
Call it a moral victory, but the Bucs defense in its second game with Morris serving as the defensive coordinator held the Panthers to 157 yards rushing and 309 yards of total offense. Over the last two games, Carolina has averaged 283 yards rushing, so Tampa Bay held the Panthers 126 yards below that mark.
“Defensively in that second half, they played well enough to give us the chance to win and we didn’t,” Morris said.
While Tampa Bay’s defense played well, it was facing a Panthers team without Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross and starting quarterback Jake Delhomme, who had a broken finger on his right hand. The unheralded Matt Moore, who beat the Bucs at Tampa Bay in 2007, got the start at quarterback and performed well.
Relying on their ground game, the Panthers didn’t ask a lot from Moore, who was efficient in completing 14-of-20 passes for 161 yards, including a 66-yarder to Steve Smith. Smith caught three passes for 78 yards, but was largely contained by second-year cornerback Elbert Mack, who was starting in place of the injured Aqib Talib.
After throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions in a great game last week at Atlanta, Freeman must bear the burden of this loss squarely on his shoulders as the rest of the offense and the defense played well enough to win. Call it rookie growing pains. With his five-interception day, Freeman joins the club with this year’s other first-round rookie quarterbacks.
Against Seattle, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, the top overall pick this year, threw five interceptions and two touchdowns in a 32-20 loss to the Seahawks. Against Buffalo, the New York Jets’ Mark Sanchez, who was the fourth overall pick in 2009, threw five picks and no touchdowns in a 16-13, overtime loss. Sanchez and the Jets (6-6) travel to Raymond James Stadium next week to take on Freeman and the Bucs.
Moore and Stewart looked like seasoned veteran starters instead of young reserves on the Panthers’ opening drive. Moore was 3-of-3 for 30 yards, while Stewart rushed for 24 yards on six carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run on second-and-goal after a big 16-yard gain from tight end Jeff King that set Carolina up at the Tampa Bay 4-yard line. With 9:49 left in the first quarter, Carolina led 7-0.
Freeman’s first interception was by Charles Godfrey at the Carolina 18 as his pass that was intended for Sammie Stroughter sailed high. Godfrey returned the pick 12 yards to the 30-yard line where the Panthers’ ground game was churned up once again. After a 14-yard catch by Mushin Muhammad, Stewart ripped off a 23-yard run down to the Tampa Bay 29-yard line. Tyrell Sutton followed that up with a 20-yard run down to the 9-yard line. But on third-and-goal from the 5, Moore’s pass for Smith in the end zone fell incomplete. With 4:14 left in the first quarter, John Kasay’s 23-yard field goal put Carolina up 10-0.
The Bucs got on the board just minutes into the second quarter. A 40-yard completion by Bryant down to the Carolina 12-yard line was originally ruled incomplete, but Morris challenged the call and the rule on the field was overturned. The Bucs picked up six yards on a run from Ward down to the 6-yard line, but fullback Chris Pressley’s fullback dive on third-and-1 was stuffed for no gain, which brought in Barth for a 21-yard field goal attempt. The kick was good and with 13:30 left in the second quarter, the Panthers’ lead was trimmed to 10-3.
Carolina was driving into Tampa Bay territory on its next possession, but on first-and-15 at the Bucs’ 44, Moore’s pass intended for tight end Dante Rosario was deflected by Tanard Jackson and intercepted by linebacker Geno Hayes, who returned it 12 yards to the Panthers’ 44. Freeman hit Bryant with a 20-yard pass down to the Carolina 20, but that’s when the drive began to unravel. A 15-yard personal foul penalty on right tackle Jeremy Trueblood backed Tampa Bay up to the Carolina 33-yard line. After an incompletion intended for tight end Kellen Winslow, the Bucs had to settle for a 46-yard field goal by Barth. With 10:01 left before halftime, Carolina’s lead shrunk to 10-6.
The Bucs were in position to add to their lead on their next drive, which was highlighted by a 27-yard strike to Bryant down to the Carolina 38. Two plays later, Freeman hit Stovall with a 19-yard pass down to the 16-yard line. But after Julius Peppers sacked him on first down, Freeman’s pass to Bryant was incomplete on third-and-12. That brought out Barth for his third field goal attempt, but this 36-yarder hit the left upright and was no good with 2:36 left in the first half.
Tampa Bay took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched down the field due to some big runs. Williams ripped off a 14-yard gain out to the Bucs’ 47 before Freeman scrambled down the middle of the field for a 20-yard gain down to the Carolina 33. Freeman then hit Bryant with a 26-yard pass down to the Carolina 4-yard line. The play was challenged by Panthers head coach John Fox, but the call was upheld. However, Freeman’s first down pass was picked off by Beason in the end zone to end the drive.
Carolina would put more points on the board in the second half on its first possession of the third quarter. Stewart rushed for 30 yards, picking up two first down on the drive by himself. Moore showed pinpoint accuracy on the drive, going 3-of-3 for 26 yards, including a 15-yarder to Muhammad. Tampa Bay’s defense would stiffen in the red zone and hold the Panthers to a 40-yard Kasay field goal. With 6:14 left in the third quarter, Carolina’s lead increased to 13-6.
The Bucs caught a break when Chris Gamble muffed a punt and Tampa Bay recovered at the Carolina 20-yard line, but Freeman threw his third pick of the game on Tampa Bay’s first play. Beason recorded his second interception at the 20-yard line on a pass intended for Bryant, who was well covered in the end zone.
However, Carolina was held to a three-and-out and after a punt, the Bucs took over at their 17-yard line. On second-and-10 from the 27, Williams ripped off a 25-yard off left tackle and a facemask penalty on Godfrey tacked on 15 more yards, setting up Tampa Bay at the Carolina 33. Williams picked up seven more yards on the next two carries, and on third-and-3 at the 26, cornerback Richard Marshall was flagged for pass interference on Stroughter. That gave the Bucs a first down at the Carolina 19. Freeman hit Stevens for a 9-yard pass down to the 10. On third-and-1, Freeman picked up two yards on a quarterback sneak. But two runs by Williams and an incomplete pass only picked up five yards. Then on fourth-and-3, Freeman threw his fourth interception of the game – and third in the red zone – when a late throw to Stovall was picked off by safety Corey Harris.
The Panthers made the Bucs pay for that turnover. On second-and-9 from the 21, Moore launched a bomb to Smith, who had beaten Elbert Mack in coverage, for a 66–yard gain down to the 13-yard line. But Tampa Bay’s defense was stifling again inside the red zone and held Carolina to a 23-yard Kasay field goal. With 7:12 left in regulation, Carolina’s lead swelled to 16-6.
Tampa Bay kept driving for points in the fourth quarter, but kept coming up empty. After finding Winslow for back-to-back gains of 25 and 18 yards, Freeman threw an incompletion on first-and-10 at the Carolina 26. A second-down sack by defensive lineman Nick Hayden set up third-and-12 from the 28, but Winslow managed to only pick up four yards on a pass from Freeman. That sent Barth out for a 42-yard field goal attempt, but it went wide right.
That would be the last real chance Tampa Bay had for points.PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME
Wide receiver Antonio Bryant sheepishly went to the media instead of going to offensive coordinator Greg Olson to lobby for more opportunities in the passing game. It’s a good thing Olson reads stories on the Internet and got the message. After catching only three passes for 91 yards and a touchdown last week at Atlanta, Bryant had 11 balls thrown his way at Carolina with five of them hitting the target for 116 yards. Bryant had two nice sideline catches for gains of 27 and 40 yards.
“A.B. played absolutely incredible and I wanted to keep giving him the ball,” Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman said. “A.B. is a tremendous asset.”
Astonishingly, that marked the first time this season the Bucs have had a wide receiver go over 100 yards in a game. Tight end Kellen Winslow has hit the century mark twice this year. Sadly, Bryant’s 116 yards are the most receiving yards by any Buccaneer this season. For his efforts, Bryant is this week’s PewterReport.com Player of the Game.IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Tampa Bay had so many chances for points in this game due to eight possessions inside Carolina’s 30-yard line that it is difficult to pinpoint where this game was lost. The Bucs’ last real chance for points came when Carolina led 16-6 with 5:23 left in the fourth quarter. Kicker Connor Barth missed a 42-yard field goal, which would have made the contest a seven-point game. After that miss, the Bucs really didn’t have a chance to score twice in either win or tie the game with only five minutes left in the game with the way they kept screwing up their red zone opportunities.STATS THAT COUNT
Elbert Mack made his first career start at left cornerback in place of Aqib Talib. .. Linebacker Geno Hayes recorded his first career interception at Carolina. … Defensive end Tim Crowder sacked Matt Moore for a 9-yard loss. It was Crowder’s 3.5 sack of the year and his second in two weeks. … Free safety Tanard Jackson and strongside linebacker Quincy Black each tied with a team-high seven tackles. … Josh Freeman became the first and only Bucs quarterback to throw for 300 yards this year. Freeman set a career-high with 321 passing yards. … Tight end Kellen Winslow had four catches for 69 yards. … Wide receiver Maurice Stovall had a season-high four catches for 68 yards. … Running back Cadillac Williams led the Bucs with 92 yards on 17 carries (5.4 avg.), including a 25-yarder. … Tampa Bay’s 154 yards rushing on 26 carries (5.9 avg.) was the highest rushing output since the Bucs ran for 174 yards against Dallas.SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Maurice Stovall
LT Donald Penn
LG Jeremy Zuttah
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Kellen Winslow
TE Jerramy Stevens
WR Antonio Bryant
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh FreemanBUCS STARTING DEFENSE
RE Stylez G. White
DT Ryan Sims
DT Chris Hovan
LE Jimmy Wilkerson
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Elbert Mack
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 Rudy Carpenter (emergency QB)
WR Terrence Nunn
WR Michael Clayton
G Shawn Murphy
OT James Lee
DT Roy Miller
DE Michael Bennett
CB Aqib TalibBUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
For the second straight time against Carolina, kick returner Clifton Smith was knocked out of the game. In a Week 6 loss to the Panthers, safety Dante Wesley gave Smith a concussion on a cheap shot while returning he was attempting to field a punt. Against Carolina on Sunday, Smith was hit in the head while trying to make a tackle on the opening kickoff. He did not return to the game. Left tackle Donald Penn was injured late in the second quarter and was replaced by left guard Jeremy Zuttah. Jonathan Compas replaced Zuttah at left guard. Penn returned in the third quarter.KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium was 72,455 The kickoff temperature was 43 degrees with 50 percent humidity and a wind chill of 39 degrees.UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (1-11) will return home to play the New York Jets (6-6) at Raymond James Stadium on December 13. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. and will be televised on CBS.
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