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Friday, Nov 17, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Bucs' Freeman needs to step up game

TAMPA Things could be worse. Take the other Number 5 in this weekend's Buccaneers-Vikings game. Paleontologists continue to comb the remnants of 34-year-old Donovan NcNabb's Minnesota debut — 7-for-15 for 39 passing yards in a Vikings loss at San Diego. The Minnesota offense scored as many touchdowns as the Bucs' offense. Which brings us to your 5, Bucs fans — the 5 it's all about, according to Bucs coach Raheem Morris.
Yes, it's all on Josh Freeman, again, and he hasn't looked up to all that, not in preseason and not in Week 1. This just in: There are 15 games left. There's plenty of time. Still … Freeman did his usual comeback try in the loss to the Lions and threw for 259 yards, but his game wasn't all there, and we don't just mean when he left with cramps. Afterwards, Freeman sounded slightly dazed at the L, rambling about this and that. Monday, his offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, a veteran rambler, talked about his guys being "a little uptight" at the start of another game, about them needing to get some swagger back. Wednesday, Freeman responded by basically saying: Huh? "That's interesting. You talk about the whole swagger. I really don't think that was the case," Freeman said. "… There was never a time in that game where we didn't feel we could drive down the field and score a touchdown and get in a rhythm and win the game." Freeman talked about his possible message to his teammates: "Obviously, with the help of the media, there's a bit of a swirl and it's kind of a 'Chicken Little' complex: you lose the first game, the sky is falling, you guys are never going to win again, you can't start, the defense can't do this or that. "Within the building, we know what kind of team we are. We know that we let one get away this past weekend. We know we can go out and play better football and win games. There's no panic, I guess, so to speak, within our locker room." But is anyone else out there beginning to wonder if the Bucs have put too much on Freeman's plate? They expect too much from 5 at times. Pressure is one thing. A one-man show is quite another. He's not some magic trick, some Break Glass in Case of Emergency. Yes, he's the quarterback, and it comes down to him. "Ultimately, I'm the guy who calls the plays, I'm the guy who gets the guys up to the line, pushes the tempo," Freeman said. "I mean, whatever we've got to change, it's got to start with me," Freeman said. But what can he do about LeGarrette Blount, alleged featured back, not playing half of Sunday's game because he can't be counted on to know plays and protections, or coaches simply don't trust him? What can 5 do about not having a true speed deep threat, or people not named Mike Williams, who he can count on consistently? Freeman doesn't draw up the game plans, which seem way too rigid for changes that come its way at the start of games and beyond. What can Josh Freeman do to make Arrelious Benn step up? What can Freeman do with an offense that, when it's 14 points down, sometimes acts like it's 30 down? Abandoning the run that quickly? That's his call? Yes, he's the quarterback. No one can really argue he has looked all that hot, in the preseason or in the opener. But he won't bite on missing swagger. "There wasn't a moment in that game where somebody turned it down, somebody shied away, somebody flinched, so to speak. We were ready to go," Freeman said. It's nothing a fast start and 60-minute win in Minnesota wouldn't cure. Josh Freeman has to step it up. No. 5 knows it, admits it. He's young, but they're all young. Only he can't do it alone. Leave it just to him, just him, and sooner or later that sky really will fall.
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