TAMPA, Fla. Josh Freeman stepped to the podium at One Buc Place Thursday afternoon looking more relaxed than usual. He cracked a few jokes, smiled easily and seemed refreshed from the recent bye week for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It was visible change from the more guarded and tense demeanor of the Buc quarterback who presided over an inconsistent offense in three straight losses after a season-opening win over Carolina.
And maybe his loose, laid-back style bodes well for Sunday at 1 p.m. when Freeman faces a high-pressure situation facing a tough Kansas City defense and a Chiefs team that represents the best chance for a win that the Bucs will have any time soon.
For a franchise performer increasingly under the microscope, with fans wondering whether hell regain his winning touch of 2010, Freeman has a fair amount of weight on his shoulders these days. Yet perhaps the two-week break in between games providing a chance to get away as well as evaluate his performance will prove beneficial.
We went back and looked at every single play and some stuff was good, some stuff was bad, he said. Youve got to get more of the good and eliminate the bad. Its pretty black and white.
What specifically did he see in his play that didnt go as well as hed have liked?
It wasnt really repeat (problems, he said. It wasnt like, Oh man, you cant do this, you cant do this. It was more like a (looking at a situation) and seeing there was a different way you could have gone about it. I dont know its continually growing, learning from these experiences, throwing them in the memory band and continuing to try to get better.
Freeman had hoped to be a lot better than last year, when he threw 16 touchdowns with 29 interceptions as the Bucs unraveled from a promising 4-2 start to the dismal 4-12 mark that cost head coach Raheem Morris his job. Tampa Bays No. 1 draft pick from 2009 chalked up his problems to trying to carry too much of the load and force plays he shouldnt have.
Whatever the case, his poor showing was a disconcerting contrast to his sensational 2010 season, when Freeman helped pave the way to a 10-6 season with 25 TDs and only six interceptions leading to a spot on the Pro Bowl team as an alternate.
That raised the question heading into 2012: Which Freeman would emerge the dominant, free-wheeling, hard-running leader of two years ago, or the erratic and tentative player of last year?
After a 1-3 start, the jury is still out.
Expectations certainly soared during this past off-season as the Bucs brought in standout wide receiver Vincent Jackson, signed for 55.5-million over five years, to give him a proven No. 1 receiver and free up previous top target Mike Williams. But things havent exactly gone according to plans so far. Freeman has looked tentative and less than confident at times, and so far has passed for five touchdowns with four picks and a quarterback rating of only 75.3 (compared to his career high of 95.9 in 2010).
How much of his trouble getting traction is due to a more conservative offensive approach remains to be seen. But in Tampa Bays last game, a 24-22 loss to Washington on Sept. 28, fans saw two distinctly different passers: one who looked flat and ineffective in the first half as the Redskins built a 21-6 halftime lead, and the other who rekindled images of his past glory by letting it rip highlighted by several stellar long completions and a cool hand that
Of course, head coach Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan had to free up Freeman in order to try to dig out of the first-half hole. But he rose to the occasion and nearly pulled off a dramatic comeback win.
What clicked for Freeman in the second half?
I think the resilience (and) the mental toughness that competitiveness, Sullivan said this week. I think we started off well and then got in that lull with a couple three and outs (and) the interception. Then, certainly coming off the performance in Dallas, the guy had every opportunity to pitch tent. But that was not going to happen.
He is competitor and he had a confidence and a resolve about him on the sideline. He was just determined: Hey, I am not going to sit there and sit back and allow this thing to continue. The result, the outcome, was not what we wanted there are no moral victories. But certainly we are pleased with his leadership and his ability to compete and withstand the setbacks: the adversities, the boos and come out swinging.
Freeman credits Sullivan with creating situations that can lead to success. Coach Sullivan does an awesome job of putting us in situations where we can make big plays, he said. And as you all know, Coach Schiano is a big advocate of taking some shots (down field), for making big plays. Im definitely excited. I really like the offense were in from a personal standpoint.
That sets up an interesting dynamic Sunday against Kansas City, the team Freeman grew up rooting for as a youngster in Kansas City, Mo. The matchup gives him the opportunity to pick up where he left off and demonstrate hes back on track. But in spite of the high stakes, he exuded no sense of added pressure in talking to reporters Thursday.
Clearly, the bye and getting away did him some good.
Yeah, for sure you dont want to get too far away from it, but it was fun just having some time (off), he said. I got to spend quite a bit of time with my younger sister and my brother, who I hadnt really had time to hang out with for a while.
I caught up with them. I kind of like the bye week early in the year. I like getting it out of the way, seeing your family and then grinding, pressing on and each week trying to build on and prepare better the following week. Thats what were looking to do. You talk our team coming back energized. We had practice on Monday, practice (Wednesday), practice today. Guys are flying around, making plays and there was kind of a different sense, a different feeling a good one.
You could see it in his face. And now itll be interesting to see if shows up Sunday on the field.