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Josh Freeman vs. Game Film: a very different story

The narrative about Josh Freeman, in the media and among fans, is fuelled by the stat sheet. I bought into the chatter, and was ready to stop defending Freeman for good - until I put on the game film.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I've been an ardent supporter of Freeman since near the beginning - I remember ordering a #5 jersey as soon as Connor Barth kicked a field goal in overtime to give the 2-12 Buccaneers the upset of the season over the 13-1 Saints back in 2009. Naturally, therefore, there was a great deal of irony as on Monday, following a loss to those same Saints, I decided I had finally had enough.

I was sick and tired of defending Freeman to people who would refuse to listen. I had always convinced myself that they were only looking at the surface, had never bothered to dig any deeper into the wider context to understand why Josh was playing like he was. But on Monday morning, replaying the game in my head, even cognizant of the drops that his receivers had, I believed Freeman had cost the team the game. For some reason, I had gotten it into my head that, after the Vincent Jackson touchdown was called back for Demar Dotson's brain fart, Freeman lost his mojo, and didn't get it back until the final drive, when it was all too late.

In a weird sort of way, it was actually a relief, knowing I wouldn't have to get trapped in endless arguments with people who refused to blame anyone other than Freeman - for once, I could join their side of the debate.

Last night, I re-watched the game in Game Pass's (or Game Rewind for you Yanks) condensed mode, to get a feel for any trends in our play or schemes (which show up much more in condensed mode than broadcast mode - if any Bucs fans are interested in getting beyond surface level of our games, you seriously need to look into buying Game Pass/Rewind). While re-watching, something interesting happened:

I kept waiting for 'Bad Josh' to show up, the Josh that can't move on from bad plays and gets stuck in a mental rut, throwing the game in the process (as he did against the Saints last December).

He never did.

I'm not going to try to convince you with words, though. Instead, I went through each of the 27 passes that were called in Sunday's game (yes, the stats show 22 passes, but there were 27 called - five were negated through penalties), and marked down what happened each play. I counted all of five bad plays at most, and only three of which out-and-out stunk.

So, I'm going to try and be objective as possible. Here is a straight forward account of what happened every time Josh's number was called, with just a description of what happened - no commentary, just what happened, how it happened. In the case of drops, I'm going with whatever John Lynch said on the broadcast - if he blamed the receiver for the drop, then it's marked down as such.

Pass Attempt Down & Distance Result Distance of pass if caught Notes
1 1st & 10 Completion to Jackson 10 yards
2 3rd & 7 Completion to Williams 3 yards
3 2nd & 10 Incomplete to Jackson X Ball too far in front
4 3rd & 10 13-yard Scramble X X
5 1st & 10 Incomplete to Lorig X Lorig held by Will Herring on play. Herring flagged for defensive holding
6 1st & 5 Incomplete to Williams X Pass was fine, Greer had perfect coverage, knocked ball out of Williams' grasp
7 2nd & 5 Completion to Ogletree 5 yards Touchdown
8 2nd & 3 Incomplete to Williams X Deep sideline bomb (low percentage throw for every quarterback)
9 1st & 10 Incomplete to Martin X Dropped by Martin
10 3rd & 10 Completion to Williams 6 yards
11 2nd & 13 Completion to Jackson 7 yards
12 3rd & 6 Incomplete to Jackson X Dropped by Jackson
13 3rd & 3 Completion to Martin 4 yards Play called back, illegal formation on Tampa Bay
14 3rd & 8 Incomplete to Jackson X Dropped by Jackson
15 1st & 10 Incomplete to Ogletree X Deep bomb, off of Ogletree's fingers
16 3rd & 13 Completion to Jackson 22 yards
17 2nd & 10 Incomplete to Williams X Pass was too high. Coverage was good, so even if the play was on target, it wouldn't have been a catch, but inaccurate pass by Freeman
18 3rd & 10 Sack/fumble X Again, I'm trying to objective here. John Lynch on the broadcast put this on Freeman, so I'm marking this one on Freeman.
19 2nd & 9 Completion to Jackson 73 yards Touchdown called back, illegal formation on Tampa Bay
20 2nd & 5 Interception X Not much to say - Freeman stared down Jackson, the pick is on #5
21 2nd & 4 Completion to Byham 34 yards
22 3rd & 7 Incomplete to Jackson X Jackson is on the floor - trips over the corner's legs as he breaks the route
23 2nd & 11 Incomplete to Jackson X Jackson is on the floor - knocked over by a legal bump from Vaccaro
24 3rd & 11 Incomplete to Williams X Williams catches the ball, but is forced out of bounds by Greer and doesn't drag his second foot along the ground. Would have been a 12-yard reception if that second foot drags on the ground.
25 2nd & 9 Incomplete to Ogletree X Genuinely terrible throw by Freeman, straight at Ogletree's feet.
26 3rd & 9 Completion to Jackson 20 yards
27 2nd & 9 Completion to Jacskon 18 yards

So, of those plays, I put pass attempts 3, 17, 18, 20 and 25 on Freeman. Of those, attempts 3 and 17 weren't horrible throws, just off target. Pass attempt 25, that's a throw a 5th-year veteran QB shouldn't be making. Pass attempts 18 and 20 speak for themselves.

And... that's it. Of the other 22 pass attempts, 11 were completed, two were dropped by Jackson, two were thrown at Jackson who ended up on the floor after the ball was thrown, one was dropped by Martin, one was caught by Williams but he didn't get his second foot down, one was to Lorig who was being held (and which resulted in a defensive holding penalty), one was knocked away by Jabari Greer on perfect coverage, and two were low-percentage deep sideline bombs.

Like I said - this was the week I finally felt I could walk away from the Freeman camp, the week I could finally stop defending against what I thought was a largely unfounded narrative regarding Josh and just set my sights on whatever the future would bring with a different quarterback, no longer caring about what happens with the current one.

But when you put on the game film, the reality couldn't be further from the public discourse. Did Freeman have bad plays? Sure - he had five of them.

If the success or failure of your team hinges on the five - five! - bad plays by your quarterback, then your team has bigger issues than quarterback.

I have no doubt there will be many of you who will point to the stats and still claim that Freeman was the reason for that loss.

I challenge any of you to find a sixth bad play from Freeman on Sunday - leave a comment below, and I'll fire up Game Pass, rewatch the play and if you're right, I'll happily say so. Hell, it would make my life easier if I could stop defending Josh at this point. When I see Josh in a different uniform next season, I'd love to be able to say "good riddance" instead of "how did we let that happen?".

So, please, if you can genuinely find on the game tape a sixth bad play by Freeman, let me know. Until then, I just can't put Sunday on Freeman - and I don't believe anyone who's re-watched the game film possibly could, either.

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