TAMPA — Sometimes the won-loss record is not the only yardstick to measure the growth of Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman.
Freeman, 21, was intercepted five times in Tampa Bay's 16-6 loss at Carolina on Sunday, including three inside the Panthers 8-yard line.
The red zone mistakes by Freeman spoiled the fifth-best offensive output in team history. The 469 total yards were the most by the Bucs in two decades.
But Freeman's inexperience as an NFL quarterback is not an excuse for losing, coach Raheem Morris said Monday.
"These guys want to win, in particular that No. 5," Morris said of Freeman. "He's not going to give you an excuse for why he lost the football game for his football team, and the guys around him are not going to give you an excuse. This defense, this offense, those guys on the special teams, they go out there to win every week. We haven't had the success you would like, but there's no passive, 'It's okay,' type of mentality. Those guys are hurting in there. They want to win those games.
"Just like (Sunday). You say, 'You played better; do you feel like you should've won the game?' No. We didn't win the game. We had an opportunity to win it, and we didn't take it. That's where we are."
Morris said Bucs players and coaches have not lost confidence in Freeman, who passed for a career-high 321 yards against the Panthers but saw his record as a starter fall to 1-4.
"He made three mistakes in the red zone," Morris said. "He's going to put more pressure on himself. He puts pressure on those guys to run the right routes.
" … I think the days of calling him a young quarterback are over in that room for those guys. He went out there and didn't make the plays he's supposed to make in the red zone."
The Bucs have lost 15 of their past 16 regular-season games and are 1-11 under Morris. But the coach said he's not worried about creating a culture of losing in the Bucs' locker room.
"No, because of the guys that are here," Morris said. "You're talking about the young guys that are going to bring you through this thing. How well Quincy Black is playing these last two weeks and his production speaks volumes. You're talking about young guys who are going to get better and better together and grow together. If we were around here and we were a veteran team and we had this kind of culture and this kind of development of losing, it would be a problem.
" … Every time we come off the field and every handshake at the end of these games with opposing coaches, they're getting a little bit easier because I know they understand that, too."
The Bucs had a good opportunity to win three of their past four games. They took Miami and Atlanta down to the wire and outplayed Carolina on both sides of the ball for much of the game. The Bucs were at or inside the Panthers 30 eight times but scored just six points.
"There's progress in how we're playing," Morris said. "We just have to make better decisions at the end. We've got to make better plays at the end.
"We're still looking for that guy to stand up and be the closer for us. We've got one at quarterback. He just didn't have a good day (Sunday) in the red zone."
Freeman will have another chance to measure himself Sunday against the Jets and quarterback Mark Sanchez, a first-round pick from his draft class. Sanchez has been hurt but might still play.
Morris said the Bucs can create momentum over the next four games by finishing on a winning note — something they didn't do a year ago.
"That was kind of my cry (Sunday) to these guys, December football. Good teams play great football in December. (Sunday), we went out there and played okay football in December. You have to find a way to play great football in December, not only this year but for the future."