TAMPA — Quarterback Josh Freeman has only so much influence over the direction of games, but at least he has been given more control of the Bucs' offense.
In Saturday's 48-16 loss at Carolina, Freeman was finally allowed to push the pace of the offense, operating primarily from the shotgun and spreading the field with three and four receivers.
After LeGarrette Blount fumbled a handoff on the first offensive snap, the Bucs drove 80 yards in 15 plays on their next possession, ending in a 4-yard Freeman touchdown pass to Arrelious Benn.
On their only other possession of the half (not including a kneel down), the Bucs went 61 yards in 11 plays, and Connor Barth's 42-yard field goal cut their deficit to 17-10.
Coach Raheem Morris said a big part of the game plan was to keep the ball in Freeman's hands and give him a better chance to get into rhythm, a departure from the plodding, run-first ground attack behind Blount.
"Up the tempo. Increase it. Get the gas going, get into a rhythm," Morris said. "Josh did a nice job of controlling it, looking at the coverage, looking at what we wanted, getting into the correct play, and those are the things that are frustrating for young Josh right now.
"He takes the blame."
The third-year quarterback had one of his best games of the season, completing 28 of 38 passes for 274 yards, one touchdown and the interception for a 91.3 quarterback rating.
"The first half, excluding the first fumble, we only had two drives, scored on both," Freeman said. "And the second half, we came out and turned the ball over.
"We were trying to go out, push the tempo, get the ball in our playmakers' hands and make some things happen."
With Blount benched for most of the game after his fumble, running backs Kregg Lumpkin and Mossis Madu were efficient rushing and receiving. Each caught four passes and combined for 44 yards rushing on 11 carries.
The Bucs turned the ball over four times, including a Freeman interception on the first series of the third quarter while they were trailing 20-10.
The Panthers scored 24 points off turnovers.
"I had the tipped pass," Freeman said. "It could've been a little higher, but the guy made a great play on it.
"I thought it was going to be a big play when the ball left my hands. … Yeah, it just didn't go my way."
Perhaps not, but that uptempo offense might be the best way to go for Freeman and the Bucs.
"I was liking what (Freeman) was doing," Morris said. "I was liking what (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) was doing with the play calling.
"We had the alerts, we had everything we wanted to get going there, dictating what they were doing on defense, and we got something going. But we weren't able to keep it on track."