'Calm, cool' Freeman gaining Bucs' confidence

September 20, 2011 

TAMPA Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are notoriously slow starters who are developing a reputation for being strong closers. The NFL’s youngest team rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-20, with its unflappable third-year quarterback leading a winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime for the eighth time in 27 career starts on Sunday. It’s the league-leading sixth comeback win for Freeman since the start of the 2010 season. The eight overall since becoming the Bucs starter midway through his rookie year are the most so early in a career, surpassing Jake Plummer’s seven in 25 starts and Peyton Manning’s seven in 31 games. “Josh is the man obviously. He’s earned the label comeback kid,” said running back LeGarrette Blount, who scored a pair of second-half touchdown against the Vikings, including the winning score in the final minute. “That’s not how we want to win all the time, but at the same time when we need him he’s there, and it’s not just once, it’s over and over again. ... He’s really consistent with it.” Freeman completed 15 of 21 passes for 191 yards and one touchdown in fourth quarter Sunday. Although he was unable to rally the Bucs (1-1) from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Detroit the week before, he managed to make it interesting by a throwing a late TD pass and then marching his team into Lions territory in the closing seconds of a seven-point loss in the season opener. Through two games, the 23-year-old has a 107.9 fourth-quarter passer rating, going 26 of 37 for 260 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. “He’s smart, he takes coaching well,” coach Raheem Morris said Monday. “He’s cool, he’s calm, he’s poised, and that’s when he plays his best.” Morris, however, remains baffled by Tampa Bay’s tendency to start slowly. The offense has scored 7 or fewer points in the opening quarter for 56 consecutive games. Sunday’s rally from a 17-0 halftime deficit matched the second-largest comeback in team history. Since the start of the 2008 season, the Bucs have overcome double-digit deficits to win a league-high eight times. Freeman has led five of those comebacks. And while Morris would prefer the team not have to rely so heavily on their emerging star, he conceded Freeman has had so much success late in games that both coaches and players have come to expect it. “It happened for me last year. ... If we were down or if we were up, for me personally in my head, I’m thinking all right, when is Josh going to do it again. The times he didn’t do it, I was shocked,” Morris said. “I just think there’s a great belief when you’ve got that kind of confidence in your quarterback to go out there and win those types of games,” the coach added. “I hope we don’t have to win every game like that. Let’s go win some in a convincing fashion, just for the head coach’s health. Other than that, though, it’s fun.”

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