TAMPA — QB Josh Freeman's rookie season was marred by 18 interceptions. He has spent his sophomore season atoning.
With an interception percentage of 1.5 (six interceptions in 390 passing attempts), Freeman ranks fourth among starters behind the Patriots' Tom Brady (0.9), the Chiefs' Matt Cassel (1.1) and the Eagles' Michael Vick (1.4). Freeman's success in avoiding interceptions is a major reason the Bucs are 5-0 in games decided by three points or fewer.
What changed? Not much, Freeman and others say.
"I think one thing with Josh is that once he puts his mind to something, he does it," quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. "That was obviously something that was addressed in the offseason."
Van Pelt said Freeman's decision-making has improved so much that he faults the quarterback for just two of his interceptions. Two others, Van Pelt said, were the result of excellent defensive plays and the other two came via tipped balls.
"So, you're talking about, what, two bad (throws)?" Van Pelt said.
Freeman said he has learned that when he throws a ball up for grabs — something the Bucs refer to as "opportunity balls" — he has to do so in a way that won't allow the defense to catch it. That's something his receivers have helped to ensure, too.
"I'll throw the ball up, and I've given any number of our guys this year an opportunity to make a play on the ball," Freeman said. "I'll tell you one thing: The defender's not going to catch it because our guys are going to either go up and defend it or make the catch."
Plus, Freeman said, with more experience, "the more comfortable you feel and the less likely you're going to throw (the ball) into coverage."
Van Pelt said a lot of the Bucs' win are due to not turning the ball over.
"If you add an interception or shorten a field in any of those games, you put your defense in a terrible spot," he said. "Those one-point games probably wouldn't be one-point games if (Freeman) throws a couple picks."
SEEN IT BEFORE: When coach Raheem Morris looks at the Lions (3-10), Sunday's opponent, he sees a lot of similarities to his team: a franchise quarterback who was a first-round draft pick (though Matt Stafford is injured) surrounded by young players on both sides of the ball.
Detroit has lost six games by five points or fewer and is coming off a win over the Packers. Morris sees a brighter future for the Lions.
"It really reminds me of that phase we went through last year," Morris said. "We were getting better, and it was hard to see the results unless you were there internally. But from a guy who has gone through something like that, I can kind of see what they're going through. They're just trying to find ways to win right now, and they will. They're certainly a lot better team than people give them credit for."
MEDICAL MATTERS: WR Mike Williams (knee) and TE Kellen Winslow (knee) were at full participation in practice Thursday. For the Lions, DE Cliff Avril (rib) was limited, as was RB Jhavid Best (toe). T Gosder Cherilus (knee) was put on injured reserve.