The Bucs are going to have to endure some serious growing pains with Josh Freeman.
"Some of the mistakes we're making, we just have to overcome those and deal with the fact that Freeman is growing up right before our eyes," center Jeff Faine said. "He's going to make mistakes, he's a rookie.
"It's one of those things where we have to stick with it, stick with the program and let Freeman keep earning his stripes and get a few scars on him. But eventually, those scars will heal."
By throwing five interceptions in his sixth NFL game Sunday, Freeman joined fellow first-round quarterbacks Mark Sanchez of the Jets and Matthew Stafford of the Lions with that dubious distinction.
"That's hard for him. Five interceptions," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "I do believe just being on the sidelines, I still believe there's a ton of confidence in that kid and you can hear it from the other players on both sides of the ball. Right to the last horn, they told him, 'You're going to be OK.'
"I believe he'll bounce back. It's unfortunate. It's a very tough lesson to learn today because we were in that game. They're a good defense. We did some good things, but once we got to the red zone, the windows are tighter, the decisions have to be made faster but the right decisions have to be made. It can't just be a quick decision, it's got to be the right decision."
Two interceptions by Carolina middle linebacker Jon Beason at or near the Panthers' goal line illustrated Freeman's struggle.
On the first one, the Bucs used a play-action fake to try to freeze the linebackers and hit Antonio Bryant in the back of the end zone on a one-man route. But Beason stepped back and into the path of Freeman's throw, intercepting the ball at the goal line.
The next interception came one play after Graham recovered a muffed punt by Chris Gamble at the Carolina 20-yard line.
Freeman tried to take a shot to Bryant in the end zone but failed to look off Beason, who intercepted the ball at the Carolina 3-yard line.
"Again, there's a fine line between being aggressive and being careless with the football. I just thought we got a little careless," Olson said.
TRENDING: QB Josh Freeman is becoming a bit of a turnover machine. He's thrown eight INTs in the past three games. Freeman's five INTs against the Panthers tie for third for the most in a game by a Bucs player. Steve DeBerg holds the record with seven. Vinny Testaverde has thrown six and was intercepted five times in a game three times with Tampa Bay.
PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Clifton Smith suffered his second concussion in six weeks, both coming against Carolina. He was knocked out covering the opening kickoff Sunday against the Panthers.
--QB Josh Freeman passed for a career-high 321 yards but was intercepted five times Sunday against Carolina.
--RB Clifton Smith suffered a concussion on the opening kickoff and did not return to the game.
--WR Antonio Bryant had five catches for 116 yards Sunday, one week after calling for the ball.
--RB Cadillac Williams rushed 17 times for 92 yards, his best game since the season opener against Dallas.
--PK Conner Barth did not help his case to remain with the team, missing two of four field goal attempts Sunday. His kickoffs were also short.
--LB Geno Hayes had his first career interception Sunday against the Panthers.