Youthful Bucs feel they’re getting better

Rookie coach Raheem Morris rejects the notion that a culture of

losing has settled into Tampa Bay’s locker room during a year-long

stretch in which the Buccaneers have dropped 15 of 16 games.

Going 0-4 last December cost the team a playoff berth and

prompted the firing of former coach Jon Gruden. The Bucs (1-11)

have found multiple ways to lose during a miserable start under

Morris.

“We haven’t had the success you would like, but there is no

passive, it’s OK type of mentality,” the NFL’s youngest coach said

Monday. “Those guys are hurting. They want to win those

games.”

Sunday’s 16-6 loss to Carolina was especially agonizing because

the Bucs gained a season-best 469 yards – Tampa Bay’s highest total

in 20 years – yet failed to score a touchdown because of miscues by

rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.

Although the first-round draft pick threw for a career-high 321

yards in his fifth professional start, he was intercepted five

times. The Bucs settled for two field goals on eight possessions

inside the Panthers’ 30.

Three of the picks stopped drives inside the Carolina 8.

“He had 400 yards of offense, the fifth-best total offense

around here in (franchise) history, and you had six points to show

for it,” Morris said, attributing some of the mistakes to the

growing pains of a young quarterback.

The 33-year-old coach stressed, however, that he and his players

will not use Freeman’s inexperience as an excuse for losing.

“You’re talking about young guys who are going to bring you

through this thing. … You’re talking about young guys who are

going to get better and better … and grow together,” Morris

said.

“If we were around here and were a veteran team and we had (an

acceptance of losing), it would be a problem. But right now, we’re

a bunch of babies that are going to grow up together and get better

together.”

Freeman was 23 of 44 passing, including five completions for 116

yards to Antonio Bryant, who had been seeking a larger role in the

offense.

The 21-year-old quarterback’s difficulties near the goal line

were caused by bad decisions and a tendency he has to lock in on

receivers before delivering the ball.

“Most rookie quarterbacks, they kind of look at their intended

receivers. That gets better over time,” said safety Chris Harris,

who had one of Carolina’s interceptions. “But, yeah, you were able

to see where he was throwing the ball because he would stare down

his intended receivers.”

Seven of Tampa Bay losses have been by 10 or more points.

They’ve lost three times on an opponent’s final drive.

Against Carolina, the Bucs failed to take advantage of

short-handed NFC rivals relying on backup quarterbacks for the

second straight game.

Atlanta lost quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael

Turner to injury on the way to beating Tampa Bay two weeks ago. The

Panthers played without Jake Delhomme and leading rusher DeAngelo

Williams.

Nevertheless, Morris believes the Bucs are improving.

“There’s progress in the games and how we’re playing. We’ve

just got to make better decisions at the end and we’ve got to make

better plays at the end,” the coach said.

“We’re still looking for that guy to stand up and be the

closer. We’ve got one at quarterback. He just didn’t have a good

day yesterday in the red zone.”

Running back Cadillac Williams, who rushed for 92 yards on 17

carries, agreed.

“Right now we’re losing close games and it doesn’t look like

we’re getting it together. But if guys just stay patient and

continue to believe in what these coaches are preaching …

eventually it’s going to be a really really good football team,”

Williams said.

“Folks see no progress because we’re not winning. But once you

break down film and look at things, the progress is there. This guy

Freeman has come a long way, and he’s only going to get

better.”

AP Sports Writer Mike Cranston in Charlotte contributed to this

report.