As Christmas presents go, this one rates on the ugly sweater scale. The Buccaneers were beaten by the St. Louis Rams 28-13 that provided more questions than answers.
Yet, we're here to try to bring you 10 things we think we learned from this one:
1. Yes, for the fifth straight game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback was absolutely dreadful. Yet, this time - it wasn't just him. I know what you're thinking - here goes DLT making excuses for Freeman (again). But folks, sometimes you have to go beyond the numbers. Let's look at Freeman's interceptions -
Interception Number One - The Jenkins pick six. This was a timing route to the sideline meaning Freeman lets the ball fly expecting his receiver to be there, unfortunately Mike Williams slipped when he looked to cut back, Rams CB Janoris Jenkins had good coverage and jumped the route making it an easy pick six.
Interception Number Two - Laurinaitis Pick - Josh felt pressure from the outside and tried to force the pass to Vincent Jackson. It was a terrible decision into triple coverage.
Interception Number Three - Johnson Pick - Freeman tries to hit Williams on an in cut, but for some inexplicable reason, Williams stops the route and Freeman's pass goes right into the chest of the covering defender.
Interception Number Four - Ball is batted at the line of scrimmage straight up into the air and intercepted by Simms. That happens in the league - there's nothing you can really do about that.
So only one of those interceptions were really Josh's fault. Take away those three picks and Freeman actually had a decent day, 30 of 54 for 372 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 pick. Of course, the bottom line is you can't take those interceptions away. They're on the board and they charge them to the quarterback, not the receiver or the offensive line and for most Buc fans - the stat line is their only insight into a performance and Josh's line of 1 touchdown and four interceptions is U-G-L-Y.
2. I think the biggest indictment of Freeman on this Sunday wasn't picks but his inability to get the team to convert in scoring range. Tampa Bay was inside the Ram's thirty yard line four times. They got inside the ten yard line three times. Total points produced: 3.
3. Of course, the turnovers certainly didn't help, 21 of St. Louis 28 points came off of turnovers. The Bucs defense for the most part held up it's end of the bargain - limiting the Rams to just 285 yds of total offense and Sam Bradford to under 200 yds passing. They also forced two turnovers and 6 three-and-out drives. In the red zone, though, they failed to stop the Rams from putting touchdowns on the board, giving up touchdowns in both opportunities. They also surrendered the killer 80 yd big play at the start of the second half that really put the Bucs behind the eight ball.
4. One encouraging thing was the team didn't quit. Down 28-6, it would have been easy for the Buccaneers to go into SPM (self preservation mode), try to stay healthy and head into the next game hoping to end on a positive note. Instead, the Bucs offense started driving up and down the field while the defense forced six consecutive punts by the Rams to end the game. As we talked about earlier, the Bucs simply couldn't convert on their opportunities to pull the game close.
5. We were spoiled earlier in the season when the subs who came for injured all pro guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph were holding up well. Unfortunately for Jamon Meridith, Ted Larsen, Derek Hardman and Cody Wallace, that good start has now evaporated. These guys are backups for a reason folks and it certainly showed on Sunday when the Rams' defensive line manhandled the Bucs.
Freeman had little time to throw and when he did he felt "phantom pressure" commonly known as "happy feet". Freeman never felt confidence that his offensive line could give him the time he needed to deliver the football and rushed a lot of his throws.
The line also couldn't open holes for the running game, either, with Doug Martin managing just 3.4 yds a carry.
6. Why have the Bucs missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons? They are absolutely dreadful in December. The Bucs are 4-16 in the final month of the year since 2008. In fact, the Bucs have lost eight straight December games and haven't notched a victory in the final month since December 26th, 2010.
7. A top flight quarterback usually elevates his game heading into the playoffs. Unfortunately, Freeman hasn't been able to do that. The Buccaneers quarterback has played 15 December games in his career. He's 4-11 as a starter, while completing 299 of 524, 57% completion pct., 3,510 yds, 17 TDs and 26 ints for a QB rating of 67.7.
8. Coach Schiano has also had some growing pains this season. I believe Schiano made a tactical error by forgoing field goal opportunities for fourth down tries. Had the Bucs settled for field goals on their trips to the red zone, Tampa Bay would have had another 9 points on the board and found themselves down 28-22 with the ball in their hands. I understand that the coach's aggressiveness was more about gaining confidence for his quarterback and some momentum for the offense but the missed opportunities came back to bite the Bucs in the backside.
9. Fans are calling for Josh Freeman's head because of the roller coaster quarterback's recent play. Yet you can't just get rid of a guy and not have a better option.
The Top Free Agent QB's of the 2013 off-season are:
Joe Flacco, Baltimore - He'll likely be franchised.
Jason Campbell, Chicago - Flamed out in Washington and Oakland. Has never thrown for more than 20 touchdowns in a season in his career.
Tavaris Jackson, Minnesota - Flamed out in Minnesota and Seattle. Has never thrown more than 14 touchdowns in a season in his career.
Matt Moore, Miami - A career backup whose best season was in 2011 where he played 11 games and threw 16 td passes and 9 ints. Miami thought so highly of him they drafted Ryan Tannehill the next season.
Drew Stanton, Indianapolis - Career Backup.
Some QB's who will likely be available either via trade or release:
Tim Tebow, NY Jets - Uh, God no.
Matt Flynn, Seattle - Only one good game his entire career.
Alex Smith, San Francisco - A 'game manager" who has never thrown for more than 18 touchdown and was benched by his own team in the middle of a playoff run for a "more explosive" quarterback.
Top QB's of the 2013 Draft
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginina - a project top ten pick - From Walterfootball.com:
12/1/12: Smith started out 2012 on fire. He was a dominant force before getting shut down against Texas Tech and Kansas State. Smith played better in November even though West Virginia was in a losing streak.
Smith has completed 70 percent of his passes this season for 3,597 yards, 37 touchdowns and five interceptions. He had one of the most prolific games in college football history by completing 45-of-51 for 656 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions against Baylor.
The senior signal-caller has an excellent skill set. He is showing his intelligence and field vision by working through his progressions and looking off safeties. Smith has some natural accuracy with good arm strength to make all the throws. He can fire some fastballs into tight windows with phenomenal ball placement to hit receivers in stride.
Matt Barkley, QB, USC - A projected first round pick - from Walterfootball.com:
12/1/12: Barkley has had a rough senior season that has caused his stock to decline. He never had a great physical skill set, but the decision-making problems are the most worrisome. In Barkley's defense, his offensive line has been horrible. He's been under heat all season and USC has really missed Matt Kalil.
Barkley has completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,273 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The senior didn't play well against Stanford, Washington and was just average against California. He had underwhelming games against UCLA and Arizona. Barkley injured his shoulder against the Bruins and was unable to play against Notre Dame. His status for the Bowl game is unknown.
The best of the rest (QBs not expected to be in the first round):
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas.
Tyler Bray, Tennessee
Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
Mike Glennon, NC State
Aaron Murray, Georgia
So it's time to ask yourself Bucs fans. Are you willing to have any of these quarterbacks instead of Josh Freeman?
Do you want to trade a bunch of draft picks to move up and get Geno Smith? How would that help Tampa Bay's defense?
Do you really believe that a veteran free agent or trade of a QB that another team doesn't want would be a better solution than Freeman in the second year of this offense?
At least for one more season, Josh Freeman will be your starting quarterback.
10. There are several team records that could be broken on Sunday:
- Freeman broke the single season passing yardage record this past game, formerly held by Brad Johnson. With 157 yds passing against Atlanta, he can become the first 4,000 yd passer in Buccaneer history.
- With one touchdown pass against Atlanta, Freeman will break the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (he's currently tied with Brad Johnson at 26).
- Vincent Jackson needs 111 yds receiving to break Mark Carrier's franchise record for yards receiving in a season.
- Mike Williams needs 69 yds to give the Bucs two 1,000 yd receivers for the first time in franchise history.
- Doug Martin needs 232 yds rushing to break the franchise record for rushing yards in a season (James Wilder, 1544 yds in 1984).
- The Bucs as a team need 28 pts to set a new franchise record for points scored. (388 by 2000 squad)
- Doug Martin needs 4 rushing touchdowns to break the Bucs single season record for rushing scores (13, James Wilder, 1984).
- Martin needs 3 touchdowns rushing or receiving to break the total touchdowns for a single season record (13, James Wilder, 1984).
- Vincent Jackson or Mike Williams need 4 touchdown receptions to break Williams' record of 11 touchdown receptions in a single season (2010).