Bucs QB Josh Freeman came under a lot of duress last week — not from the Saints, but from fans wanting to toss him overboard after his four-interception, one-fumble performance in the 41-0 loss.
It's hard to argue Freeman's past three games haven't been among his best. He completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (a combined 32-of-73 for 43.8 percent) in losses to Denver and Philadelphia before his five-turnover game against New Orleans (26-of-47 for 55.3 percent).
Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said if you take a step back from the most recent games and judge Freeman on his body of work this season, it's undeniably pretty good.
He has thrown 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while watching the defense blow fourth-quarter leads in four games.
Love him or loathe him, Freeman doesn't seem like a quarterback who is leaving. He has one more year on his contract after this one, and the Bucs have the option of slapping the franchise player tag on him if they can't sign him to an extension.
"He's a really good deep ball thrower. That's No. 1," Sullivan said. "We have really good deep ball receivers. From there, there are a lot of things. Why isn't the intermediate game better? It needs to get better. It's never one thing. It's partial scheme. It's partial people. It's partial not having enough time doing it yet. But at the end of the day, it's not one thing.
"Anything you build, my experience has been, that over a long period of time, you get it all of a sudden. Some things may not be working, and all of a sudden, it's going to click. It didn't just click. It's all of the cumulative attempts before that you learned and experienced together. Then all of a sudden, you get it. I believe we're going to get it in the intermediate game because we've done some really good things."
If you compare Freeman with the other quarterbacks drafted since 2002 after their first three full seasons as a starter, he measures up pretty well. Freeman ranks eighth with a passer rating of 84.8. That's better than Drew Brees (83.0) and Matthew Stafford (82.6 entering Saturday's game against the Falcons).
It's also important to note at age 22 (when he took over as the full-time starter) only Stafford (21) and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (22) were as young or younger. He also has more touchdown passes (66) than the Ravens' Joe Flacco (60) and Roethlisberger (50) and fewer interceptions (40) than Roethlisberger (41) and Carson Palmer (43).
Freeman has a lot of improvement to make, especially hitting short to intermediate passes, and his completion percentage is not NFL worthy. But if past is prologue, he's keeping pace with some of the better quarterbacks in the game.
NOT GETTING HOME: Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan likes to dial up blitzes and various pressure packages, but seldom do they produce results. The Bucs are tied for 28th in sacks with 25. LB Lavonte David has one sack. LB Mason Foster has two.
"We're not where we want to be, certainly, with our pressure and our pressure packages," coach Greg Schiano said. "We need to be more precise when we do blitz, and we need to be more effective when we go with a four- or three-man rush. That's part of our growth.
"I coached the secondary for a long time before I was a head coach. Some of those years we were really good in the secondary, and some we weren't really good. But we had a great group rushing the passer, and he was throwing out of a well. And we made a lot of plays that a lot of guys could've made."
What will it take to make the Bucs' pressure packages work?
"Understanding protections, No. 1," Schiano said. "But that's kind of built into the blitz and the disguise of the blitz. And being able to defeat blockers. We need to be more precise. Hopefully, we will be this week when we do pressure; when we bring more than four."