TAMPA — His afternoon started with a national rumor that he was dissatisfied with being a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Then Josh Freeman’s day got a little more challenging.
Tampa Bay’s beleaguered 25-year-old quarterback struggled for the second consecutive week in Sunday’s 16-14 loss to New Orleans in the home opener. A week after completing only 15 of 31 passes against the Jets, Freeman hit on nine of 22 Sunday for a mere 125 yards. He threw one interception and lost one fumble while registering a paltry passer rating of 56.1.
“I have a blast with these guys, but our level of production has to improve,’’ Freeman said after the Bucs gained less than 275 total yards for the second time in two games.
In the morning, a CBS Sports online report suggested Freeman intends to ask the Buccaneers for a trade before the Oct. 29 deadline. Freeman, a first-round draft pick in 2009, is in the final season of his rookie contract and was not re-elected as an offensive captain in voting by his teammates before the season opener at MetLife Stadium.
After Sunday’s loss to the Saints, Freeman said he was unaware of the CBS Sports report, which also speculated about an ongoing power struggle between head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik.
“At this point, on Sunday I shut my phone off and focus on the game plan,’’ Freeman said. “I didn’t know, so it didn’t affect me. The first I heard of it was 10 seconds ago, before I walked in here. Without a doubt, I’m a Buccaneer and I continue to prepare and try to go out every week and give my team a chance to win.’’
In Freeman’s last five games, dating to December, he has thrown four touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
Needing a bounce
After dropping their first two games by a combined margin of three points, the Bucs realize they’re being tested.
“I know we’re a resilient enough team to handle this disappointment,’’ left tackle Donald Penn said. “We fixed a lot of things we didn’t do well in the opener, and I hope everyone can see we’re a good football team.’’
Schiano vowed to overcome the distractions and maintain focus.
“We’re going to fight our way right out of it,’’ Schiano said. “I understand there’ll be a huge contingent that will try to make it difficult for us to do that, but it doesn’t matter. These guys are tight. They’ll stick together and they’ll work together.’’
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham caught eight passes for 156 yards in the first half alone, including a 56-yard touchdown reception down the left seam on a busted coverage. Graham was targeted 16 times overall by Drew Brees, finishing with 10 catches for 179 yards.
After the Saints kicked a field goal on their opening possession, the game was delayed 69 minutes because of lightning before Tampa Bay’s offense took the field. ... The Bucs honored radio announcer Gene Deckerhoff for 25 years of service. Deckerhoff is also the voice of Florida State football and men’s basketball. ... Tampa Bay has been outscored 198-133 in losing seven of its past eight games, and the Bucs are 0-5 under Schiano in games decided by three points or fewer. ... Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon and rookie cornerback Rashaan Melvin were the only active Bucs who didn’t get into Sunday’s game. ... Once again, Gabe Carimi started at left guard in place of Carl Nicks, who is close to returning after recovering from a MRSA staph infection. ... Bucs safety Mark Barron led all players with a career-high 13 tackles. ... Tampa Bay’s defense, which hasn’t reached the 30-sack plateau since 2007, already has nine sacks after two games. ... Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis was rarely tested, deflecting one pass while making four tackles.