TAMPA — You could argue Josh Freeman is going through the best four-game stretch of his career.
The Bucs quarterback has 11 touchdowns and just one interception and a rating of above 100 in each game.
"I'm a more confident quarterback than I've ever been," he said.
Freeman said it's a product of maturing since last season, when he admittedly tried to do too much and tallied 22 interceptions. There have been some mechanical adjustments, including how he holds the ball, his movements and a better pocket presence, and a focus on eliminating turnovers.
"It's part of the growing-up process," he said. "I'm more in control of whether it is emotions as far as going out and feeling those urges to make something big happen rather than letting it happen, letting the defense give it to you. There are going to be plays where you have an opportunity for a shot and you take it. I've got a lot of confidence in the guys on the outside to go and make those plays. It's definitely a different feeling."
Midway through his fourth season, Freeman has as many touchdowns (16) as all of last season with twice as many completions of 40 yards or more (10) and a 95.1 rating that's fifth in the NFC.
He credited the weapons around him, including WR Vincent Jackson, WR Mike Williams, TE Dallas Clark and rookie RB Doug Martin. His line, which has suffered season-ending injuries to G Davin Joseph and G Carl Nicks, has protected him. The Bucs' 12 sacks allowed are tied for the fourth fewest in the league.
But coach Greg Schiano said, "Most of it is Josh."
"The weapons around him are great, but he has to do all the work," Schiano said. "This guy has worked from the first day we got hired. This guy has just wanted to do everything he possibly can to become the quarterback that he sees himself as. He's not where he wants to be; not where we want him to be — not even close — because his upside is way up there. But if he keeps working the way he is, he's going to get there."
SCHIANO'S SMILE: Schiano showed a sense of humor in reacting to the recent Sporting News poll that named him the coach players would least like to play for.
The magazine asked 103 players from 27 teams. They were not allowed to select their coach. Schiano received 20 votes, one more than the Patriots' Bill Belichick and three more than the Jets' Rex Ryan.
"Sixty-one guys. That's the only ones I care (about), the ones back in that locker room," Schiano said.
He smiled then said jokingly: "Now if they voted? We're going to ship them off to Buffalo or something."
Injury report: WR Arrelious Benn (shoulder), the primary kickoff returner, did not practice. Schiano said there's plenty of time for him to be ready for Sunday but others such as PR Roscoe Parrish and WR Tiquan Underwood could be used if needed.
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.