I was in the stadium when Josh Freeman made his first NFL start.
It was way back in November of 2009. The Bucs, in their throwback finest, won for the first time that season under Freeman's leadership, defeating a strong Green Bay Packers team.
I remember thinking then that while the team might not always win, with this new quarterback they would at least always be fun to watch.
I mean, Freeman was huge, tough, confident. He made plays with his arm like a Buc quarterback hadn't done since, well, before I started watching the team. He made plays with his legs -- his enormous, trunk-like legs -- rumbling down the field and taking defenders with him.
As long as Freeman was in town, it seemed, the offense would never be boring.
Cut to September 23, 2012.
Freeman is still in town (well, technically they played in Dallas, but we're doing a figurative thing here), but the offense was downright sleep-inducing.
There's a lot of blame to go around for the uninspired offense that gained a combined total of 185 yards on the day. Some point to the fact that Freeman is taking too long to release the ball, or that his release is too low. Others say the play calling is, ahem, offensive -- that handing the ball off to Doug Martin to run up the middle on the first of every set of downs was the equivalent of handing Dallas the playbook and saying, "Hey, y'all, here's how to stop us. Kthxbye."
And who can argue any of that? But none of these excuses fully explain the utterly uninspired play that we saw from Freeman and the offense this week. And so I have taken it upon myself to come up with some conspiracy theories as to why Freeman and the Bucs looked so darn bland against the Cowboys:
1) Freeman has a broken arm. And legs. You guys, maybe he really couldn't throw the ball yesterday. Or run with the ball. Because of his broken limbs. So Doug Martin up the middle was the only viable option. I mean, sure, Freeman managed to stay upright long enough to throw for 110 yards, but that's because... Oh fine, this theory is bogus. On to the next.
2) It was a throwback game! Do you remember how often Tony Dungy used to send Warrick Dunn up the middle? And how every series used to be, like, up the middle, up the middle, short pass, punt! Well, you guys, this was like a 2001 nostalgia game. And, if you recall, Brad Johnson was totally a game manager-type quarterback, so Freeman had to play like one, too. Throwback spirit, and no creamsicle jerseys necessary!
3) Freeman: Samson as Extra 25 pounds: Hair. Yes, I just dropped an analogy on you guys. But think about it. Josh lost 25 pounds this offseason, is reportedly in better shape than ever, and yet his fire seems to be out. Again, traditional reports would say that poor playcalling is to blame for Freeman's mellowing, but what if those 25 pounds held the QB's power? What if those cells that thrived on late night runs to Taco Bell were the same ones that gave him his swagger? What if shedding the weight was equivalent to Delilah cutting off Samson's power when she cut off a lock of his hair? You have to admit the plausibility of this one.
4) Schiano really wanted to do the kneel-down thing again. Is there any other excuse for a team being down by nine points (that's two scores for you non-math majors), with two and a half minutes left to play, and handing off on the first down? Perhaps Schiano relished the attention he got after coaching the Bucs to play through the victory kneel-down against the Giants and wanted to show the world that, yeah, he can do that again. And he can do it better. Which is why the Bucs took two timeouts and powered through not one, not two, but three victory kneel-downs. Had Freeman let loose, the Bucs might have entered the last seconds with a big lead or a big deficit (after all, interceptions are the result of free-wheeling as often as touchdowns are), and what fun would that have been?
I'm not sure which of these theories comes closest to being accurate -- there's probably a grain of truth in all (ok, none) of them -- but whatever the explanation, I just hope the Bucs can come out with a game plan next week that keeps the Redskins' defense on their toes and the fans on their feet.
Cross-published at Chicks in the Huddle.