As he so often does, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman saved his best for last against the Ravens on Sunday afternoon. On this day, however, it was too little, too late.
Though he completed seven of 10 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown during a critical fourth-quarter drive that gave the Bucs hope, Freeman's struggles early on proved too much to overcome during a 17-10 loss at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I played extremely poorly," Freeman said flatly after the Bucs fell to 7-4, losing for the fourth time in as many tries to a team with a winning record.
"There were a number of balls today that I usually hit on that I missed. I felt like I really had an off game. I just wasn't getting it done. When you pass as many times as I did, you've got to complete more balls."
Freeman threw 37 passes against the Ravens but completed just 17, including nine of 25 for 94 yards through the first three quarters.
"That's the Ravens," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "That's what they do to you. They're really talented and so you're going to have some out-of-sync plays against them."
Freeman seemingly had more than his share, missing high and wide on several throws on which he wasn't hurried and struggling to get the ball past defenders such as Ravens safety Ed Reed when he was.
"He's one of the best in the league and it showed today," Freeman said of Reed, who had five pass breakups, including two in the end zone during a second-quarter scoring drive in which the Bucs were forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
"It seemed like he was all over the field. Every time I tried to pass, I had to look for No. 20. There was one play where I was throwing completely away from him and by the time the pass got there, he was there making the play."
Freeman made some plays, too, including a couple in which his receivers dropped his throws and a couple more where he broke free of defenders and ran for critical yards to keep drives alive.
Overall, though, Freeman turned in one of the worst performances of his young career, finishing with just 162 passing yards and a 67.6 passer rating that was among the worst of his career.
"It just wasn't my day," said Freeman, who seemed hesitant to blame his outing completely on the Ravens. "Our offensive line gave me opportunities to step up and make plays today, but I just didn't hit 'em."
Freeman hit on a lot of throws down the stretch, throwing the touchdown with 3:05 left, but the defense couldn't get the ball back to give him a shot at tying the game.
"In a game like this you never know when your opportunities are going to come so you need to take advantage of them," he said. "It's just disappointing that we didn't play as well as we can."