TAMPA — He wasn't just a Kool-Aid chugger for two months when things were going well, because seeing meant believing for Greg Schiano. That's what has made a five-game losing streak so difficult to swallow for the Bucs' first-year coach.
By next week, the Bucs likely will have their first 4,000-yard passer, a running back with a franchise rookie rushing record of more than 1,300 yards and two 1,000-yard receivers for the first time.
But the only sum that matters is a 6-4 start that has turned into a 6-9 disappointment following Sunday's 28-13 loss to the Rams.
"What's eating me right now is we're close, but close isn't what we're here for," Schiano said on Christmas Eve, a day after quarterback Josh Freeman threw four interceptions for the second straight game.
"We've got to get where we start getting the five or six plays that determine the game on each side of the ball. Right now we're coming up two (and) four. At 3-3, you've got a chance to win, but at 2-4 you're not going to win, especially if you do it on both sides. That's where we've kind of been here the last five weeks. … That's what eats me because I know these guys can do it."
Freeman, among the league's top passers after 10 weeks with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions, matched that number of picks in losses to the Saints and Rams the past two weeks. St. Louis scored 21 points off those turnovers, including a pickoff return for a touchdown by cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
The Bucs also produced one field goal in three trips inside the red zone, including two drives when Tampa Bay failed to convert on fourth down from the Rams' 7-yard line or closer.
"Did we forget how to coach? Did they forget how to play? I don't think so," Schiano said. "It just didn't happen for us. And certainly that has an impact on the game."
Schiano said he does not believe Freeman is forcing throws and there is a fine line between making plays and bad decisions.
"I do feel he's an aggressive football player," Schiano said. "He's got skills, and he wants to use them. As I said (Sunday), it is such a fine line between being a great play and pressing, (and) a great play and forcing. You don't want to ever get your quarterback afraid.
"You look at any quarterback who is in that (career) phase where he is, that 50-game area, that's where they start to really get it."
Despite a second straight turnover-filled game, Freeman set three club records Sunday: His 3,843 passing yards are a season mark. His touchdown to receiver Mike Williams gave Freeman 26, the Bucs' season record. Freeman also tied Vinny Testaverde for career touchdown passes with 77.
"Josh is getting it," Schiano said. "He's got such a better understanding of the whole game. It takes all those repetitions and all those opportunities."
Freeman wasn't the only culprit Sunday. The Bucs' defense gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half when rookie linebacker Lavonte David bit hard on a play-action run fake. "Chalk it up to a beginner's mistake," Schiano said.
But much has gone right for the Bucs this season, especially on offense. Receivers Vincent Jackson (69 catches for 1,334 yards, 8 TDs) and Williams (57 catches, 931 yards, 8 TDs) could eclipse 1,000 yards receiving. Doug Martin has set the club's rookie rushing record with 1,312 yards and 10 TDs.
"Look, there's been a lot of things that have happened over the course of this year," Schiano said. "Some of the guys we started with aren't here, all that sort of stuff. But that doesn't matter. Again, we had opportunities to do it, and we didn't coach well enough, and we didn't play well enough to be on the positive side, and that's what eats me."