Following Tampa Bay’s thrilling 24-20 comeback victory Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, there’s been one stat strewn about virtually every Bucs-related media outlet available: 8 of 14.
That represents how many of quarterback Josh Freeman’s 14 total NFL wins have been of the late-game, come-from-behind variety.
While head coach Raheem Morris said Monday that being the protector of more fourth-quarter leads would certainly be welcomed, he praised his quarterback’s moxie under pressure. He added, given the repeated nature of these nail-biting Buccaneers wins, that this is simply Tampa Bay football.
Love it or hate it.
“We don’t have to win every game like that,” Morris said. “Let’s go win some games in a more convincing fashion, just for the head coach’s health. Other than that, it’s fun, man. It’s Bucs football. That was Buccaneer football. Hate to say it [because] I know you guys don’t necessarily like it that way, but that’s what it was.”
As long as the end result affects the left side of the Bucs’ overall record and not the right, such a living-on-the-edge style will continue to draw praise. But Morris and the Bucs needn’t look back any further than last week to recall the dangerous repercussions of early offensive stall-outs.
Tampa Bay entered the final 15 minutes at home against Detroit down 27-13. Freeman and the offense strapped up and found the end zone once, but eventually lost, 27-20. There were no “Comeback Kid” headlines to be found.
Through two weeks of regular-season football, Tampa Bay has accumulated a grand total of six points and 170 yards of offense against Detroit and Minnesota, respectively. The team’s lone touchdown in those two first halves came on CB Aqib Talib’s pick-six last week of Lions QB Matthew Stafford.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the team in the first half,” Morris said. “We’ve got to go out there and play the game the way we need to play it. We certainly did in the second half. We were able to come out and execute our game plan and do our job. It was just about us being young; a matter of us having the ability to play faster, play smarter, play wiser, play harder in the beginning and be more consistent. That’s all it was. There were dramatic second-half adjustments. [It was] go do your job and do it fast. We have to start that way and that’s something I’m going to try to fix.”
As for what transpired Sunday afternoon, though, the Bucs’ reality was again being behind to start the final quarter and again watching Freeman turn in an 8-of-11, 99-yard performance to win the game. Everyone within the walls of One Buccaneer Place may love to start playing from ahead more often, but that attribute of Tampa Bay’s third-year leader is one Morris is happy to see and has come to rely on.
“Every game we played, when it was in the fourth quarter and if we were down or if we were up, whatever the case may be, I was in my head thinking, ‘Alright, when is Josh going to do it again?’ ” Morris said. “The times he didn’t do it I was shocked – the two Atlanta games last year.”
“So for our football team, I just think it’s a great relief when you’ve got that kind of confidence in your quarterback to be able to go out there and win those types of games.”
The third-year head coach credited his quarterback’s cool, collected and level-headed composure for why Freeman continues to fortify his reputation as Mr. Clutch while continuing to develop his overall NFL game.
“He’s smart [and] listens to his coaching,” Morris said. “He takes coaching well. He’s cool, he’s calm, he’s poised, [and] that’s when he plays his best. The first game he got kind of rattled. We talked about blinking [and] we talked about all those things with the whole team. He’s definitely one of those guys that [others] can use as an example.”
“Yesterday, 17-0, he was as cool and as calm as he’s been,” Morris continued. “He’s on the sideline getting everything corrected that we needed to get corrected. [He] came over one time [with] his mouth bleeding [and] looked me right in the face: ‘Oh, we got this. We’re okay.’ And I’m looking at my quarterback’s mouth bleeding. Just kind of a situation I don’t want to look at too often. He got things rolling for us and was able to come back again in the fourth quarter. It’s becoming a signature move for him.”