TAMPA — You recognize the 6-foot-6 player under center, the curly hair squeezing from underneath the helmet. The strong right arm and No. 5 on his back are dead giveaways.
But Josh Freeman isn't the same quarterback as he was last season.
Needless to say, the Bucs aren't the same team, either.
Freeman was intercepted three more times Sunday — one deflecting off the hands of Kellen Winslow, one deflecting off the hands of Arrelious Benn — in the Bucs' 37-9 loss to the Texans before 56,037 at Raymond James Stadium.
"Nothing is wrong with me," Freeman said. "I feel like I'm a better quarterback this year than I was last year. As crazy as that might sound looking at the numbers, I feel like I continue to get better with my preparation and execution. I feel like I'm throwing the ball as well as I ever have. Things just aren't going my way."
For the ninth time in nine games this season, Tampa Bay failed to score an offensive touchdown during the first quarter.
It trailed 16-3 at halftime and 30-3 to start the fourth.
By losing their third straight game and fourth of the past five, the Bucs (4-5) are closer to the cellar in the NFC South (two games ahead of Carolina) than first place (2½ games behind New Orleans).
In the third quarter, when the game was still within reach, Freeman went 1-for-5 for zero yards, was sacked three times and intercepted twice.
A year after throwing 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions, Freeman has nine and 13, respectively. His 72.1 passer rating is 23.8 points lower than where he finished 2010.
It might be as simple as this: Freeman doesn't get to face the Bucs defense.
It took only 12 seconds for the Texans (7-3) to make Freeman play catch-up.
On the game's first play from scrimmage, the Bucs defenders bit hard on a play-action fake to running back Arian Foster before Matt Schaub connected with Jacoby Jones. Jones caught the ball at the Bucs 47, evaded safeties Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones and ran toward the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown.
The Bucs' poor tackling also accounted for the Texans' second touchdown. Foster caught a short pass from Schaub in the left flat and sidestepped matador tackle attempts by Jones and cornerback Aqib Talib on his way to a 78-yard touchdown.
After watching his team be outscored 136-46 in its past four losses, coach Raheem Morris tried to shoulder the blame.
"I refuse to believe that our guys are that bad," he said, "so it has to be my fault."
For the game, the Bucs were outgained 420-231 (185-90 on the ground) and held the ball 10:12 less than the Texans. Despite claiming defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (five tackles, blocked extra point) off waivers from New England on Wednesday, Tampa Bay couldn't slow Foster (17 rushes, 84 yards, one touchdown) or Ben Tate (13 carries, 63 yards, one touchdown).
Oh, and Houston played without the injured Andre Johnson, one of the league's top receivers.
Unable to shake the Bucs from their doldrums, Morris said he would change the practice routine this week and hinted at more padded workouts in preparation for Sunday's game at Green Bay against the defending Super Bowl champions.
"The last few weeks have been tough," Morris said. "The guys right now are not playing well, and we've got to find a way to get better.
"You've got to go out and get your pads on because we're not making plays in pads."
Despite playing with a bandage on the right thumb of his throwing hand (which he sprained three weeks ago against Chicago), Freeman said it had no effect on his performance. He finished 15-of-35 for 170 yards, was sacked four times, intercepted three times and finished with a passer rating of 31.8.
In fact, 14 Texans points came after interceptions.
"They're a really good defense. They came as advertised," Freeman said of the Texans, who entered with the NFL's top-ranked unit and maintained the ranking. "They generated some pass rush and really didn't allow us to get into any offensive rhythm.
"It's just that we have not played nearly up to our potential. We are a young team. And as a young team, you have to understand this is the NFL. You see some success, and you can't rest on that."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.
Brother of Bucs receiver shot near Illinois campus
Illinois linebacker Trulon Henry, the older brother of Bucs receiver Arrelious Benn, was shot above the right wrist, the bullet exiting through his ring finger, rupturing an artery and breaking bones, as he tried to get teammates to leave a large house party near campus early Sunday. Henry, a 27-year-old senior who is married and has a daughter, had surgery Sunday and will miss at least the rest of the regular season.
"I was only there for three minutes,'' he said. "I was trying to get everyone in the car. (Someone) started shooting. It's crazy."
Urbana police said two others, neither Illinois students, were wounded. Coach Ron Zook said Henry went to the party to clear out his teammates after a player called to tell him a fight had broken out. Police were searching for the shooter. Benn also played at Illinois.