With an unimpressive and sometimes downright ugly preseason performance, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman is feeling the heat before the first snap of the regular season. But even with Freeman's streakiness and inconsistency, Tampa Bay's starting QB still gives Tampa Bay its best shot at success in 2013.
If you ask Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan or general manager Mark Dominik how they feel about quarterback Josh Freeman now that his playing time is done in the preseason, they would all most likely would give the standard company answer – they aren’t overly worried, and Freeman will be fine.
But through three preseason games, Tampa Bay’s top signal caller has struggled statistically (12-for-26, 100 yards with no touchdowns or INTs) and a large segment of fans and media alike are in near panic mode. PewterReport.com's message boards and local sports talk radio phone lines on 98.7 The Fan are filled with those ready to dump Freeman and look for QB play elsewhere.
The problem with that scenario is with who could the Bucs replace Freeman with? Rookie Mike Glennon?
Glennon may very well one day develop into an NFL starting-caliber quarterback, but asking the rookie to step in and lead the Bucs in 2013 would be likely too tall an order. Tampa Bay fans might be giddy over Glennon's game-winning touchdown pass to beat the Dolphins on Saturday night, but that came in the fourth quarter against backup defenders – just like both of his other two TD passes this preseason.
The fact is, this 2013 Buccaneers team was built with the intent to get to the playoffs this season, and regardless of how Freeman has looked through three meaningless games, Tampa Bay’s 2009 No. 1 draft pick gives Tampa Bay the best chance at success this season – and beyond – despite some shortcomings in his game.
Anyone who saw Freeman play football going back to his Kansas State days knows he is a streaky, inconsistent quarterback at times, who mid-game – or even mid-series – can find a spark or mojo and look like an All-Pro.
Last season was a perfect example of this fact. Freeman started the season off efficiently against the Panthers with a QB rating of 95.5, then went to New York in Week 2 and posts a 76.9 QB rating. The following week the Bucs traveled to Dallas and Freeman has arguably one of his worst games of his career against the Cowboys, throwing for just 110 yards and posting a 45.6 QB rating.
But following the bye week, Freeman caught fire and went on a five-week tear, leading all NFL quarterbacks, including Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning in passing while putting up QB ratings of 124.7 (Kansas City), 115.2 (New Orleans), 104.2 (Minnesota), 108.6 (Oakland), and 137.5 (San Diego) during that stretch run.
The wheels soon fell off however, as Freeman's streakiness reared its’ ugly head. After a gutsy, come-from-behind win at Carolina, Freeman and the Bucs went into a tailspin and lost six games in a row, essentially eliminating the team from playoff contention. Just once in the six-game losing streak did Freeman’s QB rating reach 90, and that was in the one-point loss to the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. Freeman’s QB ratings during that losing streak were 90.4 (Atlanta), 72.8 (Denver), 79.2 (Philadelphia), 37.5 (New Orleans), 52.4 (St. Louis), and 71.4 (Atlanta).
But even with Freeman's struggles, the Buccaneers could have easily of won two of those games (Atlanta and Philadelphia), but the defense was unable to close out those contests and hold Tampa Bay's fourth quarter leads. Add those two games as wins and the Bucs are a 9-7 football team in 2012.
Add in three earlier games that Freeman put his team in position to win with fourth quarter leads (New York, Washington and New Orleans) and there were 12 wins the Buccaneers could have possibly achieved in 2012.
To think that in his fifth year that Freeman has suddenly regressed and can’t put up similar numbers as last season just doesn’t make sense. One can't deny that 4,065 yards passing is 4,065 yards passing, and those numbers weren’t posted in spite of Freeman, but rather because of Freeman.
Could the pressure of trying to earn a new contract, or a devastating injury to a key wide receiver or to running back Doug Martin hamper a similar season? Of course, but if all things stayed the same as last season and if Freeman has the exact same numbers – and streakiness – with an improved defense, the Bucs are most certainly capable of 10 wins and a shot at the postseason.
Most fans – and every member of the Bucs organization – would love to see Freeman develop into a steady, consistent franchise-type quarterback without the astronomical highs, followed by the frustrating lows. But Freeman’s career, dating back to his days in Manhattan, Kansas, give no indication of anything different to come in 2013.
Former Tampa Bay legend Ronde Barber was correct in his assessment during the telecast of the Bucs vs. Dolphins preseason game last week that Freeman can’t carry the team by himself. But how many quarterbacks can single-handedly carry their own team? For all of their passing records and MVPs, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning have carried their teams to exactly one Super Bowl win apiece over a combined 27 years in the NFL.
Brees and Manning have the same number of Super Bowl rings as former Bucs quarterbacks Trent Dilfer (he won a Super Bowl with the Ravens) and Brad Johnson.
Get ready to pull your hair out one week and anoint Freeman as the greatest Bucs QB ever the next week, Tampa Bay fans. Freeman's roller coaster ride begins in 13 days.
The good news is with an improved pass defense and a good luck run of no serious injuries, Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can be in contention for the postseason, despite the streakiness that has become Freeman’s trademark.
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