TAMPA — The past two weeks, Josh Freeman might have missed too many open receivers. And his accuracy might have come into question.
But the consensus at One Buc Place is that he's not throwing games away.
While losing back-to-back games for the first time this season, Freeman has seen his completion percentage drop from 61 to 48 percent (36-of-75) and his rating dip. Through the first 10 games, Freeman's rating was 92.0, but it slipped to 67.6 against the Ravens and 61.4 against the Falcons.
In the NFL, you're only as good as your last play, and Freeman's final snap resulted in a game-sealing interception in the 28-24 loss to the Falcons.
Even so, Freeman insists he is not in a slump.
"I feel like, as far as throwing the ball and with my footwork and everything, I've been as sharp as I've been all year," Freeman said. "So I definitely don't think it's a slump."
But there has to be a reason (or several) why Freeman's numbers have gone south.
"By the way, we played two pretty good defenses the last two weeks," coach Raheem Morris said. "To get out of the game with the Baltimore Ravens with Ed Reed only having two tipped balls is an accomplishment."
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Freeman was guilty of looking at the pass rush at times against the Ravens. Because of injuries, the Bucs offensive line has been a revolving door. Tampa Bay lost starting right guard Davin Joseph for the season when he broke his foot in the first half at Baltimore. Last week, center Jeff Faine suffered a season-ending torn right triceps.
The starting guards today at Washington will be Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman, both rookies, the latter promoted from the practice squad.
But Freeman isn't using that as an excuse for missing receivers.
"I just haven't been hitting it," he said. "The Ravens game, the problem was I just was not hitting open guys. Then in the Falcons game, there were quite a few throwaways and a number of plays where they just had it well-covered."
Olson is quick to note that a lot of focus will be on Freeman's last play. After watching the special teams and defense blow a 10-point lead with 10 minutes to play against the Falcons, Freeman nearly brought the Bucs back. He has six fourth-quarter comebacks in 21 starts and was close to doing it again after converting on fourth and 12 with a completion to receiver Sammie Stroughter at the Falcons 27-yard line.
After the two-minute warning, Freeman's pre-snap read told him that Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes was playing off Mike Williams, who leads all rookie receivers with 51 catches for 769 yards. But Grimes broke on the deep out route and made a diving interception.
Freeman's fire burned out of control briefly after Grimes' interception. He wasn't going to let Grimes get past him on the sideline return, so he hit him 1 yard out of bounds, sending Grimes into the Bucs bench and picking up an unnecessary roughness penalty (and later a $5,000 fine).
"Everyone wants to remember the last play of the game," Olson said. "But we had two broken routes with young players earlier. No reason for it."
He pointed to the first play of the game, when Williams ran the wrong route.
"That can change the whole outcome of the game," Olson said. "You don't know how the game plays out."
Freeman has been victimized by other drops and poor route running. Receiver Micheal Spurlock failed to come down with a pass in the end zone at Baltimore that would've made it a one-score game with about six minutes to play. Tight end Ryan Purvis stopped running on a throw that Freeman sailed over his head.
"When he throws a pass, we have to make the catch," Spurlock said. "That's what makes his rating, what makes everything about him look great. It's not like he's out there playing by himself.
"When he gives you opportunity balls, you have to come down with them one way or another. Every time you get one, you've got to cash in on it, and right now my bank is empty."
Morris said he knows that if Freeman doesn't play great, the Bucs have little chance to win. This season, Freeman has protected the football with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.
But December and January are when NFL quarterbacks build their reputation.
"I tell him he can't read the paper because it's not going to help your preparation," Olson said. "Don't waver. He's a very good player. Keep throwing it."