By Eric Schmidt

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have now recorded more wins in 2012 than they recorded in 2011 with seven games remaining and a possible outside shot at a playoff berth on the horizon. First-year head coach Greg Schiano has accounted for much of the turnaround, instilling a new tough, hard-nosed mentality surrounding the team. One large factor for the turnaround of the Buccaneers this season has been the recent exceptional play of QB Josh Freeman.

The Buccaneers were one of the surprise teams of 2010, becoming a trendy pick to reach the playoffs in 2011. The Buccaneers failed miserably on the field last season, playing some of the worst football in Tampa Bay history under the leadership of then-head coach, Raheem Morris. Morris was fired and the team reached into the college ranks to find their next head coach, Greg Schiano.

During the Buccaneers 2010 season, Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Freeman’s regression in 2011 coincided with the Buccaneers demise on the field, throwing 22 interceptions. Questions surrounding whether or not Freeman was the franchise quarterback many thought he was destined to become after the 2010 season last year.

With a new coaching staff, Freeman dedicated himself to regaining his 2010 form. He worked out religiously in the offseason. He made sure to spend as much time as possible with his receivers, especially free agent acquisition Vincent Jackson in the offseason. Freeman changed his diet and lost over 20 pounds. He even changed his hair style, it was time for change in Tampa. He committed himself to proving his critics wrong, and he’s doing just that this season.

While pass defense continues to be a problem for the Buccaneers this season, scoring points on offense has not been an issue. Tampa Bay fans are witnessing some of the most prolific offense in franchise history over the last five games. Tampa is on pace to set a single season scoring record and have averaged a franchise record 35.6 points per game in recent weeks.

Josh Freeman’s performance in recent weeks have also been record setting. He has five straight games with a passer rating of 104 or higher. He’s currently the seventh ranked quarterback in the NFL. In his last five games, Freeman has 13 touchdowns and just one interception. He also has five multiple score games this season.

Freeman is on pace for career highs in passing yards and touchdowns, 4,012 yards and 32 touchdowns respectively.

Freeman has also benefited from the addition of offensive weapons, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Tampa in franchise history. Rookie RB Doug Martin has the most rushing yards of any rookie this season and is tied for the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL with 862. Veteran WR Vincent Jackson is averaging 21.4 yards per reception and could set the single season yardage record for the franchise. WR Mike Williams has rebounded from his sophomore slump, averaging 18.3 yards per reception and five touchdowns.

The emergence of running back Doug Martin has opened up the passing lanes for the Buccaneers. Freeman is routinely taking shots down the field, which are resulting in big plays.

Another coaching change that has benefited Freeman this season was the addition of offensive coordinator, Mike Sullivan. The Buccaneers have gone through a plethora of offensive coordinators in their history, but never one which has assembled such a dynamic, high powered attack. Sullivan was the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants, working with Eli Manning. His addition to the staff has been highly significant for the development of Freeman.

If Freeman can maintain his current pace, the Buccaneers are in the hunt to win 10 games this season and perhaps earn one of the wildcard berths in this year’s playoffs, which would be quite the achievement in one season under Schiano.






Filed under: NFC South, NFL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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