Youthful Bucs feel they're getting better

BY foxsports • December 13, 2009

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.

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