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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Once again, Bucs' Freeman finds way to win

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 12:17 AM
TAMPA -

Josh Freeman's numbers didn't jump out at anyone Sunday – until you looked at the scoreboard.

The third-year quarterback of the Buccaneers posted a pedestrian passer rating of 56.8 and was intercepted twice while completing 22 of 32 passes for 180 yards against Atlanta.

But when the key plays had to be made at soggy Raymond James Stadium, Freeman made sure the Bucs walked out with a 16-13 victory that snapped a gnawing five-game losing streak to the Falcons.

"Whatever it takes to win, that's what Josh will do,'' said Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams, who caught five passes for 43 yards. "I've been around him for less than two years, but I kind of expect it by now. He's going to make the big pass, stiff-arm someone for a first down. Like I said, whatever it takes.''

In beating Atlanta for the first time, Freeman scored his first career rushing touchdown, a 1-yard plunge in the second quarter that gave Tampa Bay a 10-3 lead and proved to be its only touchdown of the game. He also picked up two key first downs with his feet in the second half.

His 14-yard scramble on third-and-6 led to a Connor Barth field goal that stretched Tampa Bay's lead to 16-3 in the third quarter.

And after a Matt Bryant field goal pulled Atlanta within three points with 4:06 remaining in the game, Freeman opened the ensuing drive with a 13-yard run that ended with safety William Moore launching himself for an apparent helmet-to-helmet hit that failed to draw a flag.

Freeman finished with 35 rushing yards on 10 carries.

"It's no surprise to me what kind of player Josh Freeman is,'' said Moore, whose interception off a deflected pass changed momentum in Atlanta's favor on the first play of the fourth quarter. "It's hard to find flaws in his game.''

To cap his dynamic day, Freeman's cadence prompted second-year defensive tackle Corey Peters to jump offside on fourth-and-1 from midfield, effective sealing the decision.

"Like I've said before, Josh Freeman's a heck of a quarterback,'' said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "Once again today, he hurt us as much with his legs as with his arm.''

Freeman took it all in that long stride, the one that helps him frustrate defenders by buying time out of the pocket.

"They're a great division opponent,'' Freeman said. "We'll get to see them again, but today was our day.''

Center Jeff Faine, savvy enough to snap the ball as soon as he saw Peters cross the line of scrimmage prematurely, is just happy to have No. 5 on his side.

"On that hit he took to the head, Josh knew he needed the first down,'' Faine said. "For him not to slide, to sacrifice it all, that's the type of guy you love playing for.''

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