TAMPA — The debate will have to wait. The Bucs' Josh Freeman and the Jets' Mark Sanchez won't stage a shootout between rookie quarterbacks taken in the first round this year.
Sanchez is battling a knee injury, and the Jets announced Wednesday that they will start Kellen Clemens on Sunday.
But Freeman still has more to prove than whether he has moved to the head of the 2009 quarterback class.
His biggest challenge of the season will be rebounding from five interceptions during last week's 16-6 loss to the Panthers.
"I thought that we had ample opportunities to win that ball game," Freeman said Wednesday. "I feel like it was turning the ball over — me turning the ball over — which kind of stopped us from doing that. You never go out and plan to have a day like that, but at the same time you have to learn from it and move on."
As soon as Freeman was done Monday watching the tape of all five interceptions, including two near the goal line by linebacker Jon Beason, offensive coordinator Greg Olson wanted him to file it away.
Not just put it behind him, mind you.
Olson asked Freeman to take notes on all the things he learned in those red zone situations and start a file on the player who really stole his spotlight and two passes intended for Antonio Bryant in the end zone.
"You start a file and you take notes throughout the week as we prepare, and as soon as the game is over, when we get graded on Monday morning, you take notes again," Olson said. "And you take notes not only on the scheme … but also the personnel.
"Know which corner is a guy you can double-move down the road. You've got to be aware of the range that a guy like Jon Beason has. So he's got to be great about that. We're starting a file now, especially the divisional opponents, so when he's playing in Year 6, Year 7, Year 8 for the Buccaneers, he's got those guys down defensively and on coordinators."
Freeman, 21, passed for a career-high 321 yards at Carolina and helped the Bucs compile 469 yards total offense, their fifth-highest mark ever and the most for a game in two decades.
"If you took those five plays away and you look at the ball game he had, I think everybody on this planet could live with that," Bucs quarterback Byron Leftwich said. "The thing you've got to understand, you have games when things like that happen. We were sitting here talking and I told him: 'Nobody wants to throw five picks. But I've been in a game where I've thrown three and I could've thrown seven. They just happened to drop four. You don't want to do that every week, but you understand when you have those games, it's not the end of the world; I can get better, I will learn from it.' "
Two interceptions, on passes intended for Maurice Stovall, were the result of needing to make something happen while trailing late in the game, including one on fourth and goal. The first interception was what coach Raheem Morris termed a "wild pitch."
Beason's two picks were the result of bad decisions, according to Olson.
"We always talk about, 'Let's play fearless, but let's not be careless with the football, though,' " Olson said. "We got careless on Sunday."
Freeman will face an array of blitzes from Jets coach Rex Ryan. He is 1-4 as a starter while Sanchez is 6-6 with a lot more to work with. The Jets are first in the NFL in rushing offense (168.6 yards per game) and second overall in total defense (276.4).
Ryan said Wednesday that the Jets considered Freeman before trading up 12 spots to pick Sanchez fifth overall. The Bucs moved from 19th to 17th to select Freeman.
"You knew he was a big strong kid that can run with the football, and he's got a big arm, he can make all the throws," Ryan said. "He reminded me of (Ben) Roethlisberger, who I had to face twice a year (as Ravens defensive coordinator), just a big guy. You might have a free blitzer on him, but the guys bounce off him. … That's why we were definitely considering him, there's no doubt."
Through six games, five of them starts, Freeman's passer rating is 64.1 while Sanchez's is 63.7. The Lions' Matthew Stafford, who was taken No. 1 overall, has a 61.0 rating.
"Of course, you always want to be regarded as the best," Freeman said. "We'll always be remembered together. Whenever I'm watching them on TV I'm pulling for them to do well. When we are playing them, obviously you don't want them to do well.
"If I had to go back and do the draft again I'd be fine with going 17. I love being in Tampa. I love the coaches and the people I'm working with."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.