Morris: Unbeaten Bucs won’t become complacent
By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — 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.”