Where has the quarterback of 2010 gone? Yes, Josh Freeman is still a dangerous come-from-behind quarterback but the little things done early in games are absolutely devastating this team.
Freeman missed a wide-open Kellen Winslow on a routine pass play early in the first half that would have resulted in a drive-extending play on third down. Several other passes were thrown low and seemed forced and aimed. Tampa Bay’s third-year signal caller looks unsure much of the time and his lack of accuracy speaks volumes about his mental state right now. He completed 29-of-51 passes for 264 yards with four interceptions and just two touchdowns.
Very few, if any, quarterbacks will ever walk out a stadium victorious after throwing four interceptions. And to make matters worse most of the picks weren’t tipped or batted balls, they were just poor decisions made by No. 5, except for the first half pick on the goal line that bounced off of Mike Williams’ chest. A total of 14 of Freeman's passes, including the four INTs, were touched by Bears defenders.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson and head coach Raheem Morris will have two weeks until the next game to try and figure out what has gone wrong with Freeman this season. Whatever the problems are, they must get corrected during the bye week. With road games at New Orleans and Green Bay coming up in the next month sandwiched between a match-up with the much-improved Texans, Tampa Bay needs Freeman to return to his 2010 form quickly for any chance of making the playoffs this year.
When Earnest Graham was carried off the field into the tunnel under the weight of trainers, the Buccaneers' chances of victory seemed to follow. The gamble of general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris to not add running back depth after LeGarrette Blount’s injury bit the Buccaneers on the backside and may derail any chance for the playoffs.
Backup-to-the-backup Kregg Lumpkin, came in and did all he could do but was ill-equipped to handle the role of primary back and third down back. Asking him to perform in that situation was completely unfair by Bucs’ management. How does Tampa Bay at the very least not promote Mossis Madu to the active roster? It isn’t as if Graham has proven an ability to stay healthy.
Lumpkin carried the ball eight times for 15 yards and added 37 yards as a receiver out of the backfield but never looked comfortable being thrust into a tough situation.
Each week it seems another receiver steps up and does his part to try and make a difference. Preston Parker and Arrelious Benn have been sparks in the offense at different times this season.
This week, Dezmon Briscoe did all he could to will the offense in the end zone. At least twice, Briscoe caught third-down passes short of the sticks but was able to fight the defenders for the necessary first-down yardage.
For the game, Briscoe had a career-high six receptions for 73 yards, including a fourth-quarter 24-yard touchdown, which helped narrow the Bears’ lead. The TD was the second of his career.
Mike Williams continues to frustrate, and while he led Tampa Bay’s receivers with 75 yards on his six receptions, his critical drop on the Bears’ goal line (that resulted in the interception of a first-half Josh Freeman pass) was a huge momentum-killer.
Williams continues to catch the ball with his body instead of his hands, and is nowhere close to the receiver he was last season when he led the Buccaneers with 11 touchdown receptions.
After showing off his speed and agility last week against the Saints, Benn was targeted just once against the Bears and may make Bucs fans scratch their heads as to why.
With Jeff Faine declared inactive nursing a biceps injury, the Buccaneers came into the Bears game already lacking a bit of continuity. And when Faine’s replacement, Jeremy Zuttah, went out with a knee injury in the second half, the coaching staff had to reshuffle the line once again.
For the most part, the O-line protected Freeman well, but the running game managed just 30 yards on 11 carries (2.7 avg.). Ted Larsen moved to center after Zuttah departed and Derek Hardman was pressed into action as left guard.
The Bears ran several twists and stunts trying free up rushers. While they were only able to take down Freeman once, the Bucs’ signal-caller had pressure on and off for most of the afternoon. At other times Freeman had all the time in the world to find open receivers, even when the Bears knew the Buccaneers were passing.
One big negative was the penalties by right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who came into the Bears game having not been flagged all season. But on Sunday Trueblood was called for two false starts. Backup tackle Demar Dotson was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty in the second half, both Zuttah and Larsen were flagged for holding and Larsen also had a facemask penalty called on him.
Kellen Winslow was a marked man for most of the day by the Bears defense and was shutout in the first half. In the second half, Freeman was able to establish a little rhythm with his tight end who ended the game with four catches for 25 yards, including his first touchdown of the season, despite being targeted 12 times.
Rookie Luke Stocker added two catches for 14 yards and provided help in pass protection.
Constantly inconsistent is the best way to describe the Buccaneers defense as a whole today. The defensive line was probably the best defensive group as they harassed Jay Cutler all game long.
At times the line dominated, as Adrian Clayborn and Micheal Bennett were in the Bears backfield as much as the Bears offensive players. Frank Okam and Brian Price deserve the majority of the credit for Ronde Barber’s safety of Matt Forte in the first half as the duo blew up the Bears offensive line that play.
The one issue the defensive line had was allowing the Bears running game to reach the edges and, with little support from the linebackers, it turned into several big gains for Forte, who rushed for 145 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries (5.8 avg.).
Clayborn was a beast all day and played his best game of his young career, including collecting his team-leading third sack of the season while adding three tackles.
At times the Buccaneers linebackers came up with big plays. At other times they had difficulty shedding their blocks and were caught out of position.
Adam Hayward filled in admirably for Mason Foster, who played only a couple series due to re-injuring his ankle. Hayward was juiced for the chance and ended the game with five tackles.
Quincy Black also added five stops, but at times you almost forgot he was on the field. Geno Hayes also had five tackles, including two for a loss, but like Black, was an afterthought for much of the game.
In the second half the unit played more consistent, but by then the Bears had done enough damage to ensure victory as Chicago rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries (5.4 avg.).
When free safety Tanard Jackson left in the first half with a hamstring injury, the air came out of the balloon for this unit just a bit. Jackson had his second interception in as many weeks and had a tackle and a pass breakup before sustaining his injury.
Tampa Bay’s corners were steady and didn’t give up many big plays, although Ronde Barber dropped a first half interception that would have been an easy pick-six and a momentum changer. Barber finished with a sack and a safety, the first of his career, and was the best player in the secondary on Sunday.
The play of Sean Jones and Corey Lynch left much to be desired, especially against the run. Both were made to look silly on Marion Barber’s third-quarter, 12-yard touchdown run. The run support from the safeties wasn’t very good although Jones led the team with seven tackles.
Corey Lynch did add an interception but could have possibly added two more had he been able to keep his feet. He finished with a career-high three passes defensed.
Jay Cutler finished with 226 yards passing and one touchdown, which was caught by Roy Williams, who beat cornerback E.J. Biggers off the line of scrimmage.
Punter Michael Koenen continues to be the best free-agent signing by the Buccaneers since Simeon Rice and Brad Johnson, as he kept the dangerous Devin Hester from having an impact Sunday afternoon. Combining high, shorter kicks with directional punts at times, Koenen continues to be the team’s MVP so far in 2011.
The coverage units were also solid and even when it appeared Hester had a small lane to run, the Tampa Bay defenders closed things off quickly. Hester returned one kickoff for just 14 yards and averaged only 6.6 yards per punt return on Sunday as Koenen averaged 47.6 yards per punt with a 43.5-net yard average with three pinned inside the 20-yard line and no touchbacks.
Conner Barth added another field goal and is now 13-of-15 on the season and perfect on extra point attempts.