TAMPA — No matter how many times Bucs left tackle Donald Penn knocks down pass rushers, he is only noticed when he has to help quarterback Josh Freeman get back on his feet.
Penn, named to the Pro Bowl last year, routinely stifles the league's best sack masters. But Saturday he faces his toughest assignment — blocking out his uncharacteristically poor performance Sunday against the Jaguars.
Penn allowed a first-half sack that resulted in a Freeman fumble recovered for a Jaguars touchdown in a 41-14 loss Sunday. Freeman was harassed all day, sacked three times, pulled down by his facemask for a personal foul and hit on two other occasions. He threw two interceptions.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris called it Penn's worst game of the year. Penn doesn't disagree.
"I'm not happy with the way I played," Penn said Tuesday. "We'll see how this week goes. I'm not happy with myself, I need to play better. I can't let up. I always talk about it. I did, I'll be the first one to stand here and tell you. I wish I could have three or four plays back. It would've helped us. But I've got to do better. I hold myself to high standards and that wasn't good enough on my part. What perfect way to get better than this weekend."
Pass protection will be paramount for Penn when he faces Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who is tied for second in the NFL with 15 sacks and has 94 for his career.
Ware can flip to either side, which means right tackle Jeremy Trueblood will be also be tested. But it's Penn's job to keep Freeman clean on his blindside and Ware has made some long days for left tackles this season.
"He's having a great year this year," Penn said. "Man, it's going to be tough. He's going to come at me. We're going to have a good battle and he's a good player. I'm going to have to really recoup. I put some bad things on film last week, I've got to make sure I switch it up and change it up so he doesn't take advantage of what I did. But that wasn't me."
The Bucs (4-9) have lost seven games in a row and eight of their past nine. Playing the Cowboys in primetime on the NFL Network is rife with potential for ridicule or redemption.
"We're grinding through it," Penn said. "We're still playing hard, we're still holding each other to a high standard and we're going to get through it. It's a learning stage, too. We're growing while we're learning."
At Jacksonville, seven turnovers led to 41 unanswered points, including 28 in 7 ½ minutes in the second quarter.
"It happened so fast, you've got to … take a deep breath and get back to playing one play at a time," Penn said. "I wish we would've done some different things. We've got to get better and stop making so many mistakes."
Behind Penn, the Bucs have done an extraordinary job protection Freeman. Despite yielding three sacks last week, they're tied for eighth in the NFL in sacks allowed with 24.
"I don't know whether you want to consider DeMarcus a d-lineman? A linebacker?" Morris said. "Whatever you want to call him, just call him a good football player and you've just got to be ready to deal with him on Saturday."
Like always, Penn says he'll have Freeman's back.
"I don't want to make it bigger than it is," Penn said. "I'm going to take care of it. I'm fully aware of what I did and I'm going to get better. I'm one of the first guys to tell these other guys, "I need more.' So it's time for them to tell me they need more from me. The roles are reversed. I have to come out and produce."