TAMPA — Eight interceptions in two games might be evidence enough that rookie quarterback Josh Freeman is feeling pressure.
Who knew most of it was coming from the Bucs?
Freeman lost some confidence when he threw an interception on the first play in Sunday's 26-3 loss to the Jets. Coach Raheem Morris said Monday that the Bucs have to scale back Freeman's workload and take the pressure off the 21-year-old.
"You've got to calm him down a little bit," Morris said. "You've got to establish your offensive identity as far as the run; you've got to get him some easy completions. You've got to get back to his hard-core, play-action pass. … When do you give him too much? And we kind of found out. You've got to reel some things back on him a little bit.
"He played against a really good defense, and you don't want to overdo it. You don't want to put him in remedial classes. But at the same time, you want to take a little pressure off the young man, take some stuff off of him, put it back on the coaches, put it back on the guys around him."
While Freeman doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve, Morris said, the early interception clearly shook the rookie's confidence a week after he threw five picks in a 16-6 loss at Carolina. Freeman finished 14-of-33 for 93 yards with three interceptions and a passer rating of 12.1 against the Jets. The Bucs don't have a touchdown in the past two games.
"We talked about it as a staff, and I don't think we did a good job as a staff of calming him down after that happened," Morris said of the interception by Jets linebacker David Harris. " … He's a mentally tough kid, but any time you throw five picks the week before in a completely different situation … and you start off with a pick that way, when you're searching for an easy completion for the young man to get his confidence going, it probably affected him a little bit."
Even with all the interceptions (three in the red zone) at Carolina a week earlier, Freeman passed for a career-high 321 yards.
"I remember a couple weeks ago when he went out there and threw for all those yards, we're saying, 'Hey, how far can he take this thing?' " Morris said. "Is he going to be the guy to stand back there and throw the ball every snap? … Maybe you've got to scale him back a little bit now."
In general, Morris said, the team played hard Sunday.
"But on offense, you can question some of the effort," he said.
The game was similar to the one in Week 3, in the way the Bucs were manhandled by the Giants, Morris said.
"I don't think it's a matter of effort," he said. "(Sunday) had some of those Giants-like implications to it, where we were just physically outmatched or a guy just flat out beat a guy.
"But that big-time play in the backfield where they just smashed us, some of those things were there, and those are some of the things you have to look at each as a man and figure out what the problem was."
On the play Morris spoke of, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace dropped running back Cadillac Williams for a 3-yard loss on second and 6 from the Bucs 49. Pace beat tight end Kellen Winslow to the inside.
The best way to take pressure off Freeman is to run effectively. But the Bucs averaged just 2.2 yards per rush against the Jets.
"I think it's tough to really place an identity on us and say, 'This is our identity,' " center Jeff Faine said. "It's tough. The changing of an offensive coordinator, three quarterbacks — it's tough to place a hat on something. It's something I think we'll develop this offseason.
"I think last week was a good showing of what the possibilities could be with Freeman being able to stretch the field with his arm and us being able to take advantage of it in the running game. But I think you have to have two games of consistent identity for our offense to be able to hang our hats on it."