You watch. You wonder. You worry.
Josh Freeman drops back in the pocket, and automatically, the grading period begins again. Every play. Every pass. Every performance. There is no athlete in Tampa Bay who is scrutinized more thoroughly.
Will he be accurate enough this time? Will he be as sharp as he was in the first quarter against the Patriots or as wobbly as in the second? Will he remind you of the wonder kid he was back in 2010, when he was Josh Franchise, when he seemed destined to be among the top quarterbacks in the league? Or will he make you wince as he did during the giant backstep of 2011, when his shortcomings seemed so large?
You dissect. You discuss. You debate.
And if you think it is complicated through your eyes, try imagining how it looks through those of Greg Schiano.
They are connected, these two and their careers. For Freeman, the best chance at being special is through Schiano. For Schiano, the quickest chance at turning around a franchise is through Freeman. After all, the NFL always has been a league of coaches and quarterbacks. One trying to succeed without the other might be like walking on a tightrope across a volcano.
Remember all of the chatter about why so many college coaches have failed to transition to the pros in recent seasons? The answer is as simple as this: Who was the quarterback when they arrived? And who came in after that?
Oh, there are other factors. When Steve Spurrier was with the Redskins, the front office was a mess. When Bobby Petrino was with the Falcons, the defense was miserable. And so on. Still, it starts with the quarterback, with that bond between the leader on the sideline and the leader in the huddle.
Why did Spurrier fail? In his first year, he gave seven starts to Shane Matthews, five to Patrick Ramsey and four to Danny Wuerffel. It didn't work. The next year, Spurrier started Ramsey 11 times and Tim Hasselbeck (the other one) five.
The result? Spurrier lasted only two years, and none of his quarterbacks ever got another start in the NFL. Not one.
Then there is Nick Saban. These days, it doesn't take long for Saban's name to come up in the "who is the best college coach in America" debate. When he was with the Dolphins, however, he was just another guy named Nick.
The reason? Journeyman Gus Frerotte, at the age of 34, was his quarterback his first year. The second year, the Dolphins brought in Daunte Culpepper, who lost three of his four starts. After that, the Dolphins turned to Joey Harrington, and that was all Saban needed to see of the NFL.
Petrino? He lasted only 13 games before jumping ship in Atlanta. Maybe that was because the coach-crunching Harrington started 10 of them. (To be fair, Harrington also quarterbacked Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci into unemployment, and neither came from the college ranks).
Then there was Mike Riley, who had the misfortune of coaching the Chargers when Ryan Leaf arrived. In the end, Leaf took Riley's career down with his own.
Dennis Erickson won two national titles while in Miami, but his success never translated to his six seasons in the NFL. Why? Rick Mirer at the start. Tim Rattay at the finish.
Butch Davis, now an adviser with the Bucs, would have had a better chance in Cleveland if Tim Couch had stayed healthy. He didn't. And when the Browns brought in Jeff Garcia for a tour stop, Garcia wasn't good enough to stop the avalanche.
Ah, but what about the college coaches who succeed? Jimmy Johnson did fine with Dallas once he turned his huddle over to Troy Aikman. Jim Harbaugh was terrific with the 49ers last year, largely because he was able to turn around the fortunes of Alex Smith. Tom Coughlin has had a nice career after jumping from the college game, especially now that he has Eli Manning.
This is why Freeman is important to Schiano, and Schiano to Freeman. If this turnaround is going to be fast and smooth, both need the best from the other.
Yeah, yeah. Schiano is the new guy in charge, and if he wants another quarterback, it seems as if he will be around long enough to get one. Freeman has shown enough skills that, yeah, he would get another shot with another team. No one should suggest that these two are the only shot for each other.
But does Schiano really want to start over with a new hope next year? And how long would that take? Does Freeman really want a new huddle? And would that team invest as much time in him as this one? For the good of both, and for the good of the Bucs, it's better if these two are good together.
There are signs. No one doubts Freeman's physical gifts. He is still only 24 years old, and he has never had this much talent around him. The sheer intensity of Schiano and his assistants should work well for him, too.
Will Schiano succeed? Will Freeman? Right now, it seems as if each gives the other a better chance.
Oh, but whatever happens, if Joey Harrington happens to call, don't answer the phone.