Josh Freeman and Buccaneers come to life, beat Kansas City Chiefs

Tiquan Underwood turns a bobbled pass into a 62-yard gain as cornerback Stanford Routt falls.
Tiquan Underwood turns a bobbled pass into a 62-yard gain as cornerback Stanford Routt falls.
Published Oct. 15, 2012

TAMPA — Josh Freeman has never lashed out when criticized. And past failures don't seem to eat at him.

But after looking tighter than the curls in his hair during the first quarter of the season, the Bucs needed the bye week to evaluate what their 6-foot-6 quarterback did best.

Along with under-fire offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, they came up with some answers in Sunday's 38-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs before 46,500 at Raymond James Stadium.

Freeman threw the ball down the field to his stealth bomber wide receivers, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Then he threw it to them again. And again.

Jackson caught two touchdown passes, and Williams had 113 yards receiving, his acrobatic 62-yard catch resulting in a first-quarter score. Tiquan Underwood turned a deflected pass into another 62-yard gain in the second half.

"When it comes down to it, I feel like my guys are better than their guys," Freeman said after passing for 328 yards — a career high in a victory — with three touchdowns and one interception.

"You hate to say it blunt like that, but we've got guys that can make plays when we give them opportunities."

The Bucs (2-3) won for the first time since opening day and snapped a three-game losing streak — by a combined 15 points to the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins.

The victory might have provided a template Freeman and Sullivan can follow the remainder of the season.

"I think on offense, they really wanted to challenge down the field some more," said safety Ronde Barber, who blocked a punt and added a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Bucs breathing room in the third quarter. "We hadn't done as much of it the first four weeks of the season as we probably could have. We made an effort to do it today — let our two talented receivers go make plays over their (defensive backs). There is no reason that can't be the norm for us.

"I think we all know what Freeman's strength is and he got to display some of that today and get the ball down the field. It's encouraging. I know he likes it and as a team, we can build off those big plays."

Sullivan clearly made some other tweaks during the 13 days between games. The Bucs made a better effort to get running back Doug Martin on the perimeter. He responded with 76 yards rushing — including a run of 23 yards, his longest run of the season— and had two receptions for 55 yards.

Martin ignited the Bucs on the opening possession of the second half when they led only 7-3. He took a short pass from Freeman in the left flat, made linebacker Justin Houston miss, and turned it into a 42-yard gain.

On the next play, Jackson (four catches, 66 yards) ran a skinny post and Freeman put some mustard on a pass for a 19-yard touchdown.

LeGarrette Blount got to fill his closer role, rushing seven times for 58 yards and capping the day with a 12-yard touchdown run.

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Bucs coach Greg Schiano was asked if Sunday's win was bigger for Freeman.

"Yeah, I think it's a big day, a big day for our offense, for our team, right? To get back on track," Schiano said. "But for Josh especially. … Not only throwing the ball, it's that hidden stuff where I think he's really grown and is becoming a complete quarterback."

Of course, none of it would've been possible had the Bucs defense not had its most complete game. Tampa Bay held the NFL's leading rusher, Jamaal Charles, to 40 yards on 12 carries (3.3 average). And 22 of those yards came on a breakout run in the second half. All told, the Chiefs, who entered Sunday second in the league in rushing offense, averaged 2.7 yards per rushing attempt.

The Chiefs fell to 1-5 and are the only team in the NFL that has never led this season. Kansas City's lone victory came on a field goal as time expired.

Playing without suspended cornerback Aqib Talib, the Bucs secondary contested every pass thrown by Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn, who made his first start in nearly three years. Quinn was intercepted by rookie safety Mark Barron and by Barber, who picked a pass — deflected by corner­back E.J. Biggers — off his shoe tops and ran 78 yards for a touchdown.

Sunday was about trust: Sullivan trusting Freeman, Freeman trusting his receivers and a team that tunes out chatter like elevator music.

"Nothing anybody says outside our building has any effect on us," Freeman said.

"We've got the talent, we've got to the pieces, we just have to go out and play."