Tampa Bay Team Report Week 14

Aqib Talib (John Raoux/AP Photo)

This should have been the battle of franchise rookie quarterbacks -- Josh Freeman for the Bucs and Mark Sanchez for the Jets. But Sanchez will not start because of a knee injury and backup Kellen Clemens takes over.

Freeman still has more to prove than whether he has moved to the head of the '09 quarterback class.

His biggest challenge of the season will be rebounding from a five interception performance in last week's 16-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The Bucs host the Jets Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The Jets (6-6) are one game behind New England in the AFC East while Tampa Bay is 1-11 and has lost 15 of its last 16 games.

"I thought that we had ample opportunities to win that ballgame," Freeman said Wednesday. "I feel like it was turning the ball over -- me turning the ball over -- which kind of stopped us from doing that. You never go out and plan to have a day like that but at the same time you have to learn from it and move on."

As soon as Freeman was done watching the tape Monday of all five interceptions -- including two near the goal line by Panthers linebacker Jon Beason -- offensive coordinator Greg Olson wanted him to file it away.

Not just put it behind him, mind you.

Olson asked Freeman to take notes on all the things he learned in those red-zone situations and start a file on the player who really stole his spotlight and two passes intended for Antonio Bryant in the end zone.

"You start a file and you take notes throughout the week as we prepare and as soon as the game is over, when we get graded on Monday morning, you take notes again," Olson said. "And you take notes not only on the scheme ... but also the personnel.

"Know which corner is a guy you can double-move down the road. You've got to be aware of the range that a guy like Jon Beason has. So he's got to be great about that. We're starting a file now, especially the divisional opponents so when he's playing in Year 6, Year 7, Year 8 for the Buccaneers, he's got those guys down defensively and on coordinators.

"The good ones, I believe, do that. I know they do that. The key is doing it while it's fresh in your mind, doing it while you're young. Don't wait until Year 5 or 6 when you start those habits."

Freeman, 21, passed for a career-high 321 yards at Carolina and helped the Bucs compile 469 yards total offense, their fifth-highest mark ever and the most for a game in two decades.

"If you took those five plays away and you look at the ballgame he had, I think everybody on this planet could live with that," said quarterback Byron Leftwich. "The thing you've got to understand, you have games when things like that happen. We were sitting here talking and I told him, 'Nobody wants to throw five picks. But I've been in a game where I've thrown three and I could've thrown seven. They just happened to drop four.'

"You don't want to do that every week, but you understand when you have those games, it's not the end of the world, I can get better, I will learn from it."

Sanchez, who has started every game for the Jets this season, sprained his right knee against the Bills on Dec. 3.

"He's really progressing well, but I just think it's in the best interest of him, and our football team that we probably take this a little bit slower than rush him back," said Jets coach Rex Ryan, after meeting with team doctors. "I just think for Mark's sake, and his health in the long run, the smart decision is to go with Kellen this week."

NOTES, QUOTES

--OT Jeremy Trueblood says he has to play with more control after being penalized for personal fouls in each of the Bucs last two games.

On Sunday, the Bucs were driving inside the Panthers 20 when, after an Antonio Bryant catch, Trueblood came barreling into CB Richard Marshall. Because the unnecessary roughness penalty came after the whistle, the Bucs faced second and 22 at the 32 instead of second and 7 at the 17. Trueblood said there was no intent on his part.

"I know that wasn't a smart move on my part," Trueblood said. "And I just have to go out there and play with controlled intensity. ...

"You have to be like that. Unfortunately, two times in the last two games it's happened. But we've played 12 games. Not to say that's all right, but you just got to (play with controlled intensity). It's just part of the game. If it doesn't happen, then it's hurting your team. I want to be accountable to all my teammates. I expect them to be there for me, so I'll be there for them."

--Bucs coach Raheem Morris has said with how hard WR Michael Clayton plays, he's often more effective if he plays around 30 or so snaps. And Clayton said he'd be open to such a situation.

"That was five weeks ago when we talked about that," Clayton said. "I fully understand that. Raheem knows how I play. I'm accepting that role. It's my job. If you abide by the rules, good stuff happens. I've been able to get some plays, regardless of how many plays I'm out there, I'm still able to make some plays. If it works best for the team, it feels good to me and I know it makes me a better player, to be honest you."

Said Morris: "He's kind of got that Mushin Muhammad kind of mentality that he's going to block you every snap and go so hard that sometimes you go to him in the clutch and he's tired or he doesn't have all his juice, and that's a problem. So I told him, 'You don't need to play more than 30 snaps or 40 snaps anyway."

--The Bucs defense has improved dramatically over the past two weeks since coach Raheem Morris took over the play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Jim Bates.

"The fact that we're mixing up the fronts a little bit more makes it tougher on the offense," said linebacker Barrett Ruud. "They have to be a little more simplistic."

BY THE NUMBERS: 15.6 - The number of points the Bucs are averaging per game. That ranks 29th in the NFL.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You knew he was a big strong kid that can run with the football, and he's got a big arm, he can make all the throws. He reminded me of (Ben) Roethlisberger, who I had to face twice a year, just a big guy. You might have a free blitzer on him, but the guys bounce off him. He's smart, he's poised, like I said, he can make every throw. He's got that huge arm, he can throw on the run. That's why we were definitely considering him, there's no doubt." -- Jets coach Rex Ryan on Bucs QB Josh Freeman.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Aqib Talib, who missed Sunday's game at Carolina with a hamstring strain, returned to practice Wednesday.

--WR Michael Clayton, who missed Sunday's game at Carolina with a knee injury, said he is about 85 percent and hopes to practice later in the week.

--LB Geno Hayes has a hamstring injury and did not participate in practice Wednesday.

--WR Sammie Stroughter will return punts and kickoff for the final four games of the season with the injury to Clifton Smith.

--TE Kellen Winslow (knee) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.

INJURY IMPACT: The biggest injury to watch again this week is Bucs CB Aqib Talib, who did not play at Carolina last week because of a recurring hamstring strain. If Talib can play, he will likely be assigned to shut down Jets WR Braylon Edwards. LB Geno Hayes missed practice with a hamstring strain and that bears watching. Adam Hayward would start if Hayes can't go.

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