Freeman turning heads around NFL

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

Look around the NFL and there is plenty to be surprised about.

Surprised by how inept the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings are looking two games into the season.

Surprised by how mature Matt Shaub and the Houston Texans are playing.

But perhaps most surprising is how in control and confident the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are performing.

The Bucs have probably already matched or even surpassed most pundits expectations with wins in their first two games of the season.

Neither was a dominant win, but considering the Bucs are playing with a roster that averages 3.56 years of NFL experience with a 22-year-old starting quarterback, the eyebrows still have to be raised.

And a big part of the reason is that 22-year-old pivot. Josh Freeman is in his second year and already his teammates, his coaches and players around the league are raving about his maturity.

Case in point this past weekend. Taking on the Carolina Panthers, a team he threw five picks against in a game in his rookie season, Freeman was a completely different quarterback.

A strong-armed, strong-willed kid, Freeman has the talent level to put the ball where a lot of others might not even try. It's part of the reason he threw five picks against this same Panthers team a year ago.

But now, with a full year of Raheem Morris being in his ear and offensive coordinator Greg Olson hammering home the necessity to make high percentage passes, Freeman is no longer the wild gunslinger.

Sunday against the Panthers he threw balls away rather than into tight coverage. He ran from trouble rather than risk making that low percentage pass. His efforts put his team in a position to win.

He threw a total of 24 passes, completed exactly half of them and gained 178 yards through the air. More importantly he didn't give one away. Not an interception, not a fumble, not a turnover of any kind.

Morris was as impressed with what he didn't do as the two touchdowns he did throw.

"You're just amazed and so happy and proud of that kid and what he's been able to do and how far he's come on

the plays he didn't make," coach Raheem Morris told the St. Petersburg Times. "The bad snap

in the air and he throws it out of bounds. The screen that the Carolina Panthers did a great job of covering up and he throws it at his feet. He's able to get some balls off when a guy is grabbing at his receiver and he's able to get another play.''

And it's not just Freeman. The rest of this team that started the season last year 0-7 is growing up too.

"It's definitely the way we wanted to start the season,'' eight-year center Jeff Faine told the Tampa Tribune. "We're happy about it, but the thing that's very encouraging about this team right now is that we're still focused and we're not content. ... It's like the old saying...act like you've been there before."

BRONCO DEAD AT 23

The Denver Broncos' run of tragedy nday.

For the third time in the past three years, a member of the Broncos football team was found dead.

Last night it was wide receiver Kenny McKinley, a 23-year-old who was on injured reserve since August with a knee injury.

While nothing has been made official, the Denver authorities are treating it as a suspected suicide.

McKinely is the 10th active NFL player since 2007 to die and the second this year.

Chicago Bears DE Gaines Adams died in January after falling into cardiac arrest.

In the early hours of New Year's Day 2007, Broncos CB Darrent Williams was the victim of a drive-by shooting. Two months later, RB Damien Nash collapsed and died while taking part in a charity basketball game.

QUICK HITS

Jacksonville starter David Garrard may have been looking over his shoulder after three picks in Sunday's loss to San Diego but not now. His backup, Luke McCown, who was getting some attention in the pre-season, came on in relief of Garrard on Sunday and tore his ACL. According to head coach Jack Del Rio, McCown is done for the season ... Good news for Cowboys fans who don't like the panicky approach. Kicker David Buehler will be around for at least another week. "I look at him the way I look at our team,'' coach Wade Phillips told the Dallas Morning News. "He was two out of three. That's about what we were." ... As expected the Steelers went out and resigned QB Byron Leftwich. Dennis Dixon has a torn meniscus according to profootballtalk.comleaving Mike Tomlin to choose between Leftwich and Charlie Batch for Sunday's game in Tampa ... Stop the presses. Common sense from Randy Moss talking about the New York Jets. "They're a little cocky and arrogant at times, but you've got to really commend the team if they talk the talk, walk the walk and prove it on Sundays."

FOURTH AND INCHES

Chris Mortensen of ESPN says the Bills asking price for Marshawn Lynch is a starter plus a draft pick. One name being thrown around is LB A.J. Hawk ... Jamaal Charles has 11 fewer carries than Thomas Jones, but says he has no problem playing behind the veteran bruising back. "I don't have any complaints," Charles said. "Hey, man, as long as we win games around here, it doesn't matter to me."

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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