After watching Freeman lead his team back from double-digit deficits each of the past two weeks, the Bucs didn't have a parachute big enough to prevent their kid quarterback from crash landing back to Earth.
"You expect it," coach Raheem Morris said. "We were living in a fantasy world a little bit the last two weeks with being able to come back and being able to strike like he was able to do. Today he was just as a thrower, he didn't have his rhythm. He was never able to get into a rhythm. He just didn't have it where he wanted it to go, especially early in the game on third down."
After the game, Bucs players said Freeman's performance Sunday was inevitable. He finished 17 of 33 passing for 126 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions for a passer rating of 33.1.
"I think it's the natural roller coaster of a young player in general," center Jeff Faine said. "We can't forget he is a rookie. Obviously, we don't want him to play like a rookie, but he is a rookie. He's going to have some ups and downs, it's going to be a little bit of a roller coaster, but he's gaining experience, and valuable experience, that he wouldn't be gaining on the sidelines.
"I think we're living with these bumps and bruises and realizing there are brighter days ahead of us."
Said Freeman: "Yeah, I was just a little off. I couldn't get in rhythm.
"I felt calm as I ever have. I felt confident throwing the ball. It was just coming out ... like, for instance, the out (route) to Sammie (Stroughter). I threw it right when he broke and it was maybe a foot or a couple inches of where it would normally be a completion. It was just one of those days. Just an off day.
"You know, it's a game of inches and today I was a hair off," Freeman said. "I mean, I don't see that as a problem in the future. It's not something where going into next week, I'm like, 'Oh, man. I hope I'm not a hair off.' I've just got to throw it and keep throwing."
It can be hard on players like Antonio Bryant, who will be a free agent, to sacrifice numbers for Freeman's development. But many Bucs players understand what's at stake and accept it.
"It's not hard for me because I understand the process and I understand what we have to do to get him ready," Michael Clayton said. "That's the reality of the situation. It may be a little difficult for other guys on this team because we're all competitors. But the focus is right now making sure he's totally prepared in all situations. We've handled it well, but we definitely have to handle it better as a team.''
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Bucs entered Sunday's game with the NFL's 29th ranked defense. If the season ended today, that would be the worst in franchise history.
TRENDING: The Bucs have given up 20 points in the final two minutes of the last three halves. They allowed the Miami Dolphins to score 10 points in the final two minutes of the first half last week and a field goal to win the game. On Sunday, the Saints drove for another TD to end the first half with 28 seconds remaining.
--RT Jeremy Trueblood suffered a knee sprain and did not finish the game. His status is unknown for Sunday's game at Atlanta.
--RB Earnest Graham was involved in the ground game Sunday as a tailback, rushing three times for 31 yards.
--WR Michael Clayton recorded his second TD of the season with an 18-yard reception from Josh Freeman.
--WR Antonio Bryant played Sunday against the Saints after missing the previous two games with a knee injury. Bryant had three catches for 40 yards.
--QB Josh Freeman now has four touchdown passes and five INTs on the season.