The Tampa Bay Buccaneers produced 469 yards of offense in Carolina on Sunday. That was the fifth-highest offensive outing posted by a Bucs team in their history.
Unfortunately, the Bucs had just two field goals to show for it in their 16-6 loss to the Panthers. The Bucs had six trips inside the red zone, where they entered Sunday's game ranked No. 2 overall, but came away with just six points due in large part to rookie quarterback Josh Freeman's five interceptions. Three of those turnovers came inside the 20-yard line.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said Freeman would have to correct those mistakes if the 1-11 Bucs are going to find a way to start winning football games.
"That is what it boils down to yesterday," Morris said Monday. "We had over 400 yards of offense, the fifth-best total of offense around here in team history, and you have six points to show for it. We get to the red zone, and we do it consistently. You are not doing it one-dimensionally. You are running the football. You are throwing the football, you are getting the ball to your big-time players. You're getting the ball to the guys in the run game. [Freeman] is going through his progressions. It was a check down here. It was a shot here. It was a throw there. It was a scramble here. Everything is working well.
"Then you get in the red zone and you just make [three] critical mistakes. You can't do that. It is an 8-8 league, and we got to find a way to get four of those games that you lose. We are not able to do that right now."
Freeman completed 23-of-44 passes for 321 yards and tossed no touchdowns and five picks in Carolina. On the season, the former first-round pick has completed 54.4 percent of his passes 1,114 yards and tossed seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
While the mistakes Freeman made in Carolina contributed mightily to Tampa Bay's 11th loss of the season, Morris said his rookie signal caller is critical of himself, which will help him become a better quarterback in time.
"He's puts pressure on himself, and that's part of being a good quarterback," said Morris. "Calling him a young quarterback; those days are kind of over in our room. He didn't go out there and make the plays he was supposed to make in the red zone. He has no qualms about coming to the podium and letting you guys know about that. He puts it on himself because that's what kind of guy he is and what kind of man he is. His teammates know that."BUCS WILL BE CAUTIOUS WITH SMITH
Tampa Bay return specialist Clifton Smith sustained a concussion on the opening kickoff of the team's game in Carolina Sunday. He didn't return.
Smith, a Pro Bowl return specialist in 2008, has sustained two concussions since Oct. 18. Both have come in games against the Panthers.
Concussions are a hot topic in the National Football League and guidelines have been imposed by the league for all 32 teams to follow when a player sustains a concussion in terms of when the injured player can return to action.
Smith is averaging 29.1 yards per kickoff return and 10.1 yards per punt return this season. The Bucs would like to have him back in the lineup as soon as possible, but will not rush him back into action.
"I'm sure there will be [a more cautious approach]," Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said of Smith. "That's a no-brainer. I'll be able to give you more updates on what's going on with Clifton [on Wednesday], but I'm sure there will be [a more cautious approach] with what's going on with concussions as it relates to the NFL."
The last time Smith sustained a concussion he missed a game the following week and returned to action after a bye. If Smith misses one or more games due the concussion rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter or WR Yamon Figurs would play in his place.
"Sammie is big, man. He's huge. I don't know what he can't do," said Morris. "It's great to have Sammie back there. We've been fortunate to have a few guys here that can do that, including Yamon Figurs. They can give us some help in the return game."
Stroughter, who tied Smith's franchise record with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown vs. the Panthers in October, is averaging 29.5 yards per kickoff return and 5.6 yards per punt return this season. He said he is ready to handle Tampa Bay's return duties if Smith is unable to return to action.
"Anything and everything I do I try and put myself as the starter," Stroughter said. "Wide receiver, punt returner, whatever it is I try and put myself as the starter. I will never be unprepared. I think that is what the coaching stuff does a great job with. We don't have second or third teams. Everybody is one team. I wish Clifton the best. Our arms are around him. I know he is going to be as strong and as healthy as he can be, he is going to do whatever he has to do to get that taken care of. He'll be back as soon as possible."DEFENSE IMPROVING?
Tampa Bay's defense ranks 26th overall in the NFL and allowed Carolina to rush for 157 yards on 33 carries (4.8 avg.) and one touchdown without starting RB DeAngelo Williams.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, who called his second game as defensive coordinator Sunday, said despite the Panthers' production on the ground the Bucs were improving their play against the run.
Carolina rushed for 86 yards on its first two drives, but finished the game with 157 yards.
"They confused a little bit early, but it was good because we corrected it after the first drive," said Morris. "The other big runs were just the result of missed tackles. The guys up front played better, though, and to me that's the sign of real progress."
The Bucs defense, which held the Atlanta Falcons to just 297 yards of offense two weeks ago, has its biggest challenge yet in terms of stopping the run when the New York Jets invade Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. The Jets have the No. 1-ranked ground attack in the NFL, led by veteran RB Thomas Jones, who is a former Buc. STOVALL UNLIKELY TO REPLACE CLAYTON
Although he could start in place of injured wide receiver Michael Clayton for Tampa Bay's upcoming game vs. the New York Jets, Bucs WR Maurice Stovall is unlikely to replace the former first-round pick in the starting lineup on a full-time basis.
Clayton has just 14 catches for 204 yards and one touchdown since re-signing with the Bucs in the offseason. He inked a five-year, $23 million deal to remain in Tampa Bay.
Stovall, a former third-round pick, is in the final year of his rookie contract. He has 18 catches for 280 yards and one score.
When asked if Stovall would remain in the starting lineup after Clayton, who has eight drops on the season, returns from his knee injury, Morris suggested that was unlikely. However, Stovall likely will continue to see significant playing time over the last four games of the 2009 regular season.
"I don't know if you have a receiver controversy," Morris said. "Clayton has dropped probably just as many as Stovall. Clayton's drops just maybe are bigger because the coach or whoever gets on him. Stovall has played well. You got to give Stovall a lot of credit for what he has done. Stovall will continue to play no matter if he is the starter or not. Those guys started splitting reps, I don't know what game I told them they got to start splitting reps, but they started splitting reps around there just because I think Michael Clayton is a better player when he plays less snaps because he plays so hard. He has that [Panthers WR] Mushin Muhammad kind of mentality where he is going to block you so hard every snap. The time that you go to him in the clutch. he's tired, and he doesn't have all his juice. That's a problem, so I told him you don't play more than 30 or 40 snaps anyway. That is where he is, and that is where they are. We'll get better at that.
"We got to give credit to Mo with how he's developed and how he's responded, and how he's played. That was good. It was also maybe a little too much for Mo, too. Some of those plays he kind of cut off routes when you are pressing a little bit. That's not just Mo, that's just who we are."QUOTE OF THE DAYBucs head coach Raheem Morris on Tampa Bay being 1-15 in regular season games dating back to the 2008 season.
"These guys go out there to win every week. Now, we haven't had the success you would like, but there's no passive, ‘It's okay" mentality. Those guys are hurting in there. They want to win. I'm not too concerned because of the guys that are here. You're talking about young guys that are working their way through this thing. You're talking about [linebacker] Quincy Black and how well he's played over the last few weeks. You're talking about younger guys that are going to get better and better together and grow together. If we were around here and had a veteran team and had this kind of coaching and this kind of development of losing it would be a problem, but right now we're a bunch of babies that are going to get better together and grow up together. Every time we come off the field and have handshakes with opposing coaches they are getting a little easier because I know they understand that, too. They know. They have a feeling."
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