Morris: Unbeaten Bucs won’t become complacent
There’s a quiet confidence building in the Tampa Bay
Led by maturing young quarterback Josh Freeman and a defense
that’s steadily improved since coach Raheem Morris took over
play-calling late last season, the Bucs are 2-0 for the first time
in five years.
A year after starting 0-7 and not getting its first win until
early November, Tampa Bay finds itself atop the NFC South standings
– and looking for more – after victories over Cleveland and
”The team’s hungry,” Morris said Monday, ”and going to remain
The surprising start begins, but hardly ends, with a more
confident, poised Freeman.
The second-year pro started nine games as a rookie, going 3-6
after Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson failed to produce a win in
the first two months of the season. The Bucs won two of three to
close out 2009 and have now won four of five.
Freeman led the team back from an 11-point deficit against the
Browns. He threw for 178 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions
and was not sacked during Sunday’s 20-7 victory at Carolina.
The 22-year-old had his worst game as a pro at Carolina last
December, throwing five interceptions. And though he led the Bucs
to 469 yards of total offense – fifth-highest in franchise history
– it led to just two field goals in a 16-6 loss to the
Morris said some of Freeman’s best plays Sunday were
incompletions, where he dumped the ball off to either avoid or
throwing into coverage. That’s something the 2009 first-round draft
pick didn’t do in his first visit to Charlotte.
”They were great decisions,” Morris said. ”Those were moments
that could have been big-time positive plays for the Carolina
Panthers, and he didn’t give them to them.”
Freeman was unavailable Monday, when Morris gave the players
The contrast between the quarterback’s performance Sunday and
his last trip to Carolina was not lost on the 2009 first-round
draft pick after throwing TD passes of 14 yards to Earnest Graham
and 35 yards to rookie Mike Williams.
He set up the TDs with throws of 24 yards and 40 yards to Kellen
Winslow, who finished with four receptions for a team-high 83
”Putting up the yardage that we did last year and getting in
the red zone and not doing anything with it. Turning it over and
hurting our team, and losing,” Freeman said after Sunday’s game.
”It’s always going to be in the back of your mind, but you can’t
go out and think about not throwing interceptions.
”You’ve just got to let the game come to you.”
Defensively, the Bucs have yet to allow any points in the second
half and continue to build off the progress that began when the
34-year-old Morris took over the defense with six games remaining
The NFL’s youngest head coach still serves as his own defensive
coordinator, and it’s difficult to argue with the results.
Tampa Bay allowed 29.4 points per game during a 1-9 start,
compared to 17.7 after Morris took over. Although the Browns and
Panthers are hardly offensive juggernauts, only New Orleans (which
played its second game Monday night) had allowed fewer points in
”It’s no secret. We’ve been a lot better since he’s taken over,
and I think we’re going to keep getting better,” linebacker
Barrett Ruud said.
”We were far from where we wanted to play (Sunday), in all
honesty. There were a lot of things that we gave up. That’s kind of
refreshing in a way. We’re not playing our best football and we’re
still getting wins.”
One of the keys has been the Bucs, who have one of the league’s
youngest and least experienced rosters, are avoiding the kinds of
costly, game-changing penalties and other mistakes that undermined
”They’re playing with a little bit of wisdom beyond their
years,” Morris said. ”We’ve been winning as a team … with
everybody contributing. That’s the only way we can do it.”