TAMPA — It happens time and time again. Josh Freeman and the offense will be stuck in a rut until well after halftime before the Bucs quarterback starts peppering the opposing secondary with deep passes.
And those downfield strikes often hit their mark.
In passes of 21 yards and longer this season, Freeman is 7-of-13 for 281 yards, three touchdowns and no interception. On those 41 yards and longer, Freeman's efficiency rating is 149.3.
"I've always felt that's been a strength of mine; all the way through college," the fourth-year player said of his ability to throw the ball downfield. "I've hit deep balls over the years. You can talk about some of those bombs to Regis (Benn) or Mike (Williams)."
Such success should come as no surprise.
The entire sport has started backpedaling.
Rules prevent defensive backs from laying a glove on receivers after 5 yards. Referees protect quarterbacks like family heirlooms, and wideouts such as the Bucs' 6-foot-5 Vincent Jackson stand out like beacons.
"You've got to get back, assess the coverage and let it go," Freeman said. "It's something that when it's there, I feel like I can make it happen."
Jackson, who signed a five-year, $55 million contract in March, has given Freeman a legitimate downfield target. His 16 catches and 304 receiving yards leads the team. His two touchdown catches are tied for first with Williams.
And with coverage rotating toward Jackson, Williams is off to a fast start (11 catches, 219 yards). Both had season highs two weeks ago against the Redskins: Jackson six catches for 100 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown; Williams four for 115, including a 65-yarder.
"We try to stay as balanced as possible," Jackson said. "We come into each … game planning to be able to run the ball when we can. But you always got to have shots tied in there to keep the defense honest."
During the bye week, coach Greg Schiano concluded Freeman is one of the league's better deep throwers and the Bucs should take more shots earlier in games. Two weeks ago, Freeman led the team back from an 18-point second-half deficit to take the lead against the Redskins before the defense faltered.
Considering the high probability of either a completion or defensive pass interference, going long can't be wrong in today's NFL.
"Certainly, there are a lot of good things," Schiano said. "You know, those flyover yards?
"Where you fly over the eight-play drive where there could be an offside, a holding penalty and possibly something bad happening. You hit that one play, and whether you catch it or get a (pass interference), you wind up in the same spot, which is a huge difference."
"When you look at a chunk play, a 60-yard play, that's eight plays that the (offensive) line isn't ramming their head, that they're not getting tired, the running back is not taking hits," he said.
"Chunk plays can be instrumental in a number of ways, but explosive plays will always be part of our offense."
There's no question Freeman has struggled with other elements of the new offense under first-year coordinator Mike Sullivan. Overall, he's the league's 26th-ranked passer with a rating of 75.3 and has a 54.6 percent completion rate.
Under Sullivan's system, there are post-snap sight adjustments that the receivers and Freeman must make. Freeman has been guilty of delivering the ball late and staring down receivers. But he has plenty of confidence in his targets.
And if all else fails, the Bucs can throw it deep.
"You start with the guys on the outside, Mike and Vincent. Every opportunity you give them, they make a play," Freeman said. "On the inside, you've got Dallas Clark and Tiquan (Underwood) emerging. Regis is a big part of our offense.
"It's exciting. It's been good. We've been pitching them and catching them at the right times."