Improved Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman plans on making amends for his five-interception performance at Carolina last year in Week 13 that played a big role in the Buccaneers' 16-6 loss.
The last time Josh Freeman played in Carolina at Bank of America Stadium, he presided over the fifth-best offensive output in Tampa Bay history as the Bucs rolled up 469 yards of total offense against the Panthers. However, the Bucs lost that contest, 16-6, largely due to Freeman’s five-interception, no-touchdown performance that day.
Freeman was 23-of-44 for 321 yards and moved the ball at will between the 20-yard lines. However, it was inside the red zone that the 2009 first-round pick began to falter as three of his five picks came inside Carolina’s 20-yard line – two of which went to Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason as he tried to force the ball into the end zone to receivers Antonio Bryant and Maurice Stovall.
This time when Freeman and the Bucs visit Carolina, which will be at 1:00 p.m. this Sunday, the second-year quarterback vows the outcome will be different.
“It was definitely a tough game to watch because I that was a game I definitely feel like we should have won and we didn’t win it because of ball security issues on my part,” Freeman said. “Looking back on that game, I try to look at the mistakes I’ve made and get those out of the way first and then look at the good things I did with the shots down the field and the ability to drive the ball and getting into the red zone. This year I have to be more ball secure and we have to get those points. I’ve grown a lot as a player and I expect to go out and have a much better performance.”
Freeman and the second-youngest team in the NFL travel to Carolina with the confidence that comes from rallying to beat Cleveland, 17-14, to start the season 1-0. The Panthers, which are the league’s youngest team, are 0-1 after a road loss to the New York Giants.
The broken right thumb that kept Freeman out of most of the preseason was hardly an issue for the 6-foot-6, 255-pound passer last Sunday as he returned to action and completed 17-of-28 (60.7 percent) of his passes for 182 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“It was a little bit of a factor, but I really had the ability to identify my abilities and my limitations throughout the week of practice,” Freeman said. “I was comfortable with what throws I could make and what throws I couldn’t make. It held up pretty well.”
On Wednesday, Freeman indicated that the thumb is improving and may be fully healed well before the end of the season.
“It’s still improving,” Freeman said. “Obviously it’s still a little sore every now and then, but at the same time it’s definitely healing. In talking to the trainers, by the time we get done with the bye week it should be completely fine.”
In Sunday’s victory against Cleveland, Freeman won his fourth NFL game with three of them, including the Browns game, featuring a come-from-behind situation. While Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback has thrived in those situations during his short NFL career, it’s not a situation he relishes.
“You really don’t like to be in those circumstances,” Freeman said. “My mindset is still to start fast and try to get those points up early so we have more four-minute offense instead of two-minute offense at the end of the game.”
Freeman’s even-keeled demeanor has helped the Bucs have success in games like Tampa Bay’s 38-28 win against Green Bay, which was his first victory in his first NFL start, and the win against Cleveland.
“There can’t be any panic about it,” Freeman said. “You can’t go into it thinking, ‘I can’t do this or I have to do that.’ You have to understand that you might have four downs to work with, so on third-and-10 you might not want to take the shot. You might want to check it down and get into a fourth-and-5 and a more manageable situation. As far as bringing teams back, I prepare every week the exact same and try to be ready for every situation. If that situation comes up, I just try to make it work.”
Freeman and Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson relish the opportunity to play Carolina again after losing that close, 16-6 decision on December 6 last year. Sunday’s contest will be Olson’s third meeting against the Panthers and it will be Freeman’s second. Getting to know your opponent is the key to having success against them, according to Olson.
“It’s growth as a quarterback,” Olson said. “It’s the speed of the game and the more starts you get. It’s about getting to know players. We talked to our players, especially our young players, about putting together your folders and your notebooks on your divisional opponents. We talked to Mike Williams and Rejus Benn and Sammie [Stroughter] and we said we have to have a folder on all of these guys that we’re playing in our division. Chris Gamble is a very good player. He has ball skills very much like Aqib Talib. He’s a double-break guy. He’s a double-move guy. He’s really good at recognizing routes and driving on balls and things like that. Each player within the division needs to have a folder on him.”
The Panthers’ folder shows a young, talented, 22-year old quarterback in Freeman, who threw five picks and no touchdowns in last year’s Carolina win. Freeman plans to rewrite a few things in that folder when Tampa Bay aims to go 2-0 on Sunday.
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