Tampa Bay Team Report Week 13

Read on to find out the latest on the Buccaneers including why the Bucs believe Josh Freeman is improving every week, how Jim Bates is still helping the team and why Maurice Stovall believes Jon Gruden would do an excellent job if he became the next coach at Notre Dame.

The Bucs have gotten better behind rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.

The 17th overall pick from Kansas State is 1-3 as a starter and did not play well two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints. But he has put his team in position to win three times in four games and the outcome wasn't decided until the final seconds.

Freeman is the Bucs' hope at Carolina on Sunday as he squares off against Panthers backup QB Matt Moore.

"We've just got to go out there and let him get better and better every week," said Bucs coach Raheem Morris. "His passing stats keep going up, his decision-making keeps getting better, the limited amount of mistakes he's making -- all those things are happening for him right now, right before our eyes. I think we all kind of want to rush him a little too fast. It's hard not to when you see passes like he throws; it's hard not to want to rush him. But it's coming. All the stuff you see him be able to do -- I don't think we're limited much from him."

Freeman is coming off a 20-17 loss at Atlanta in which he completed 20-of-29 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. If Freeman continues to play that well, the Bucs will trust him more in critical situations.

"He's got the whole plethora of things in his bag and we're calling them, he's going out there and checking them, he's making some of the right checks, he's making some of the wrong ones but his decision-making is getting better and better every week," Morris said. "Any time you go 20-for-29, that's a pretty good day for a quarterback. Every once in awhile you've got to have some of those plays that the Saints receivers give Drew Brees, catch a slant and go yard for 80. You're looking for some of those type of plays, too. It's all of us; we're getting better."

What also has looked better is the Bucs' defense under Morris, who took over the play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Morris re-installed the Bucs' one-gap, Tampa 2 offense and it paid immediate results. The Bucs have six sacks and 10 tackles for losses.

But the Bucs face a much more physical team in Carolina, which has rushed for about 300 yards in each of their last two games against Tampa Bay.

"These guys have dominated the last couple of years," Morris said. "What's my measuring stick? Not allow 200-yards. You are talking about premier backs in this league. I'm not going to call it a measuring stick but we have to go out there and play for us. It's not about measuring sticks, judging me, or judging them. None of that stuff. This game is about progress, pride, standing up, being about something. This is a little different."

Morris' team is 1-10 and needs to show some wins if he wants to prevent being a one-and-done head coach. Signs of progress have been there, but the Bucs have to learn to finish games and do it against division rivals.

"This is the Carolina Panthers. This is a division foe," Morris said. "This is John Fox. I don't like John Fox -- no, he's a great guy. You know what I mean. This is a great competitor. This has always been a great rivalry."

SERIES HISTORY: 19th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead the series 11-7. But Tampa Bay and Carolina have split the series three times in the past four years.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Though Bucs coach Raheem Morris is seemingly taking the role of demoted defensive coordinator Jim Bates day by day, he said Bates has continued to help break down film and opponent's tendencies, and will "more than likely" come to Sunday's game in Carolina.

Morris also said Bates gave him some advice before he called his first game as defensive coordinator Sunday against Atlanta.

"We're just going about the same process, he's been looking at tape, he's been up in the office, grinding," Morris said. "I go to him, he comes to me. We'll meet at the end of the week. He saw my call sheet. He talked to me about the tempo of the game a little bit. He told me to, 'Go out there and relax, shut everybody out, tell everybody to be quiet on the phones and just go feel the game, call it like you feel it.'"

--New punter Sam Paulescu is no stranger to Bucs Pro Bowl kick returner Clifton Smith, whom he welcomed to the NFL last year with a big hit on Smith's first punt return. It was last Oct 26 in Dallas, and Smith was into his return when Paulescu knocked him on his back.

Paulescu, reminded of the hit Wednesday, laughed about it, said his former college teammate at Oregon State, Bucs WR Sammie Stroughter, brought it up to him when he first came to the building.

--Former Notre Dame WR Maurice Stovall believes coach Jon Gruden would make a good coach for the Irish.

"I think his style of football and his personality would rub off on his players," Stovall said. "Maybe him being an NFL coach and having a Super Bowl under his belt, maybe that would attract better recruits as people were saying, better players, and maybe even a better coaching staff. If Gruden had opportunity to coach there, I'm sure he'd do a great job."

BY THE NUMBERS: 94.0 - Quarterback Josh Freeman's fourth-quarter passer rating, which ranks 10th overall.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Nobody cares, so why should I. Nobody cares who's hurt." -- Bucs coach Raheem Morris.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Bucs signed former Redskins punter Sam Paulescu to replace injured punter Dirk Johnson, who tore his hamstring.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Aqib Talib was limited (hamstring) in practice Wednesday.

--DE Michael Bennett (toe) had limited participation in Wednesday's practice.

--DE Roy Miller (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.

--WR Maurice Stovall (thigh) has 18 catches this season and will start in place of Michael Clayton.

--RB Cadillac Williams (coaches decision) was limited in practice Wednesday.

INJURY IMPACT: The Bucs are beat up in the secondary. CB Torrie Cox (hip) is out for the season. Nickel corner Elbert Mack has a bad ankle. CB Aqib Talib is nursing a hamstring strain. That leaves a player like Derrick Roberson, a free agent who gave up the game-winning TD to Roddy White last week, trying to hang with the Carolina receivers.


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