TAMPA — For three hours Sunday, Josh Freeman felt he played like just another young, inexperienced quarterback against the Ravens defense.
He threw some passes too high. He skipped others too low. He threw some sidearm and even one underhanded.
But when he stepped to the podium after the Bucs' 17-10 loss at M&T Bank Stadium to talk about all his wayward passes, Freeman's explanation was right on target.
"I played extremely poor," said Freeman, who was 17-of-37 for 162 yards. "We had opportunities and swung but missed. There were a number of balls I've hit consistently throughout the season that were just off a little bit. I can't really attribute that to the Ravens. I can't say it was playing in the cold. I just was off. I just had an off game.
"Our guys were winning. It was really just Point A to Point B, just get the ball to them. I was unable to do so early in the game on third down in critical situations."
Playing in 48-degree weather Freeman never had a hot hand. He entered the fourth 9-of-25 before driving the Bucs to within a touchdown with a 5-yard pass to tight end Kellen Winslow with 3:05 left.
But with two timeouts and the two-minute warning, the Bucs defense did not get the ball back to Freeman.
By failing for the fourth time in four tries to beat a team with a winning record, the Bucs fell to 7-4 entering Sunday's NFC South showdown with the Falcons at home.
The Bucs lost more than just a game. Rookie starting safety Cody Grimm broke his left fibula and could be lost for the season. Right guard Davin Joseph injured his foot early and did not return.
Two plays doomed the Bucs.
A communication breakdown in the secondary allowed tight end Todd Heap to get behind the defense for a 65-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco. Then just before the first half ended, rookie cornerback Myron Lewis was penalized for pass interference against T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The 24-yard penalty set up Flacco's 10-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason on the next play.
"I don't know how I can get (pass interference) when the guy is jumping on my back," Lewis said. "But I think the refs said they called an arm bar."
Offensively, the Bucs struggled from the outset. Cornerback Aqib Talib's sixth interception of the season gave them the ball at the Ravens 36 in the second quarter. Freeman completed a 19-yard pass to Winslow over the middle for a first down and scrambled for another on third and 7.
But the Bucs could not punch the ball in on three plays from the 4, the last when safety Ed Reed got a piece of a pass intended for Winslow in the end zone.
Reed, the All-Pro safety, was not just all over the field Sunday. He was in Freeman's head.
"He's one of the best in the league," Freeman said. "And he's great at baiting you into certain throws. So right before you're cutting a deep ball loose, you've got to make sure, 'Okay, where's No. 20 at?'
"We got down inside the 5, and he was there on every single one of those passes (even if) he was coming from the other side of the field."
But in fact, Reed dropped an interception during the game. And in the third quarter, an underhanded pass to Cadillac Williams that appeared to be intercepted by tackle Cory Redding was reversed by instant replay.
And yet Freeman almost did what he has been so good at early in his young career — bring the Bucs back in the fourth quarter.
But Micheal Spurlock failed to hold onto a 49-yard pass in the end zone with 6:10 remaining. That wound up costing the Bucs 2:59 — the amount of time it took them to eventually score on Winslow's catch.
"I just think nine times out of 10, I make that play," Spurlock said. "You wish you could get that ball back. But unfortunately, I missed it. It was just all bad by me."
But Freeman put all the blame on his shoulders. While he said he respects the Ravens defense — including Reed and linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs — he missed some throws. Simple as that.
And an opportunity to beat a team with a winning record.
"I just wasn't getting it done," Freeman said. "It's unacceptable. As a quarterback, you have to come out and play well if you're going to throw the ball. You've got to complete more balls … in a game like this especially. When you're playing on the road, when you get your opportunities, you have to hit them.
"Today just wasn't my day."
Tampa Bay's loss to Baltimore kept it winless against teams .500 or better. In fact, the best team the Bucs have beaten is the 5-6 Rams. The breakdown in order of games played: