Morris: Unbeaten Bucs won’t become complacent

There’s a quiet confidence building in the Tampa Bay

Buccaneers.

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

Carolina.

”The team’s hungry,” Morris said Monday, ”and going to remain

humble.”

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

Panthers.

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

off.

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

yards.

”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

last season.

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

the NFC.

”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

2009.

”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.”