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Tampa Bay 20, Carolina 7: Josh Freeman Takes a Huge Step Forward

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9 months is typically synonymical with growth and development.  In this case, it's not about growing into a baby.

Conversely, for Josh Freeman, the 9 month span between his last start in Carolina and Sunday represented a growth from an inexperienced professional quarterback into a much more mature, seasoned player.  5 interceptions? Sorry. Misreading basic defenses?  Nope.  Head-scratching throws? Not so much.

Indeed, what I saw on Sunday was a player who looked like a 4-year vet who was as comfortable in the pocket as I am watching sportscenter on my recliner on a Saturday morning.  His statline might read 12/24 for 178 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs, which in itself is certainly not bad, but this was arguably the best game I've seen Josh Freeman play in his brief NFL career.  Most importantly, on a day in which the defense was playing well enough to win the game, Freeman avoided turning the ball over and putting the defense on a short field.

I'm not saying he played a perfect game or that he's over the hump and will have a great year.  He will have down games and will continue to have some growing pains.  However, this is the kind of performance that the Buccaneers had to be looking for out of him.  He escaped pressure while keeping his focus downfield. He found room to run when the pocket collapsed, finishing with 43 yards on 4 carries, including an impressive 17-yard run for a key first down on 3rd and 11, where he cut inside and challenged a defender to get the first down rather than slide or step out of bounds short of the marker.  He scanned his progressions a little better today without locking onto his receiver as much....although I still think this is something he's going to have to work on.  When his receivers weren't open and his protection was breaking down, he got outside the pocket and threw the ball away. 

As for the throws he did make, he found the optimal receiver more often than not.  The deep pass to Winslow on 3rd and long that he made on the run to his right was on the money with plenty of zip, as was the following strike to Mike Williams for the second TD. What's more encouraging is that he threw the ball accurately with plenty of velocity without any noticeable pain or issues with his thumb. 

That said, the real key to success, in the NFL or any sport, is consistency....and he'll have to continue playing smart and effective football against a very good Pittsburgh Steeler defense that's allowed only one touchdown so far this season, which was in garbage time to the Titans.  The Steeler defense was especially disruptive on Sunday, sacking the Tennessee quarterbacks 4 times, intercepting 3 passes, and forcing 6 fumbles.  Josh Freeman's poise under fire will surely be tested by the veteran and relentless Pittsburgh defense. 

However, if yesterday's performance is any indication, disrupting the Buccaneers' young QB might not be the child's play some previously envisioned.