TAMPA — In just two games this season, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has gone from a passer coming off a record-setting 2012 to resetting the other extreme of his career.
Sunday's 16-14 loss to the Saints saw Freeman complete only nine passes, the fewest among his 59 starts, with his second-lowest completion percentage (40.9) and third-fewest yards (125).
The 25-year-old said Thursday that his biggest frustrations come from how close the Bucs have been to victories in both games and the penalties that have limited them.
"I think the frustration comes from knowing … that this offense is capable of scoring a lot more than seven points in a game," he said. "We have to find a way to stop hurting ourselves, get better on third down and we'll be just fine."
The concerns spread to all positions.
Linemen have committed penalties. Receivers have dropped passes, and the cast after the big three of Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams have combined for one play longer than 5 yards.
"It's not just one player. It's not just one play," coordinator Mike Sullivan said of the offense. "It's a combination of a collective group of men going out and executing, and to this point, we haven't done that. That's this league as far as the ups and downs and just trying to be at that consistent high level and trying to stay out of those valleys. That's the ongoing battle."
Martin has rushed for 209 yards, and Freeman has connected with Jackson for 12 passes and Williams for six. But newcomer Kevin Ogletree has one catch as the No. 3 receiver. Tight ends collectively have two catches, and running backs have totaled 3 yards on three catches.
"We probably would be well-served if we could have another guy involved more," coach Greg Schiano said of the passing attack. "I don't think it's for a lack of trying to be balanced. It's just kind of playing out that way right now, which is a little weird. Because usually (opponents) try to take away Vincent, and I'm sure this week, there will be a method of trying to take Vincent out of it."
Martin had 49 catches for 472 yards as a rookie. And the Bucs haven't replaced the production Dallas Clark had at tight end, though Tom Crabtree has missed both games with an ankle injury. The team is carrying four running backs. But Peyton Hillis and rookie Mike James don't have a touch; nor do starting tight end Luke Stocker and receiver Russell Shepard.
"We'd like it to be more productive, but it's not just Kevin," Schiano said. "It's whoever that guy is. It could be a running back for that matter. We're a work in progress. We're getting better. That's why we're out there practicing."
Freeman, who threw for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns last season, said he isn't concerned about his individual statistics as much as the offense getting on the same page and returning to the productivity he knows it is capable of having.
"I don't really look at the numbers," Freeman said. "Are there throws I wish I had back? Yes, of course. Hindsight's always 20-20. I just continue to work, continue to try to get the ball in the receivers' hands and get the chains moving.
"I'm as confident as I've ever been; as comfortable with the offense as I've ever been. I have extremely talented guys around me, so we're just going to keep plugging away and go out on Sunday and make it happen."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.