TAMPA, Fla. – Josh Freeman resists any temptation to gloat when he talks about the sudden emergence of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense, insisting he doesn't pay attention to critics.
The fourth-year pro has rebounded from one of the worst performances of his career to jumpstart a sputtering attack with an aggressive downfield passing game that not only helped the Bucs (2-3) stop a three-game skid with a rout of Kansas City but also has turned Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams into one of the NFL's most productive receiving tandems.
Jackson is averaging 18.5 yards per catch on a team-leading 20 receptions with four touchdowns. Williams is averaging a league-best 22.1 yards per catch on 15 receptions and has scored three TDs.
"Nothing anybody says outside of our building has any effect on us," Freeman said. "People will say they want to throw the ball deep or they want to run the ball, but we know who we are and you just have to continue to work, continue to prepare like we've been preparing, then go out on Sundays and just play. We've got the talent, we've got the pieces, we just have to go out and play."
Freeman threw for a season-high 328 yards and three TDs in Sunday's 38-10 victory over the struggling Chiefs, who paid dearly for trying to single-cover Williams and Jackson, who caught touchdown passes of 19 and 17 yards. Williams scored on 62-yard reception, making an acrobatic catch and continuing up the sideline for Tampa Bay's first TD.
"He makes those catches. If you have 1-on-1 with a DB, you just give him a high ball, give him a chance," Freeman said of Williams, a third-year pro who has benefited from the offseason acquisition of Jackson, who played the past seven seasons with the San Diego Chargers.
"I can't say I've ever seen or played with a guy with the ball skills like Mike," Freeman added. "It doesn't really matter where you put it, he's going to find a way to make a play on it."
Freeman averaged 12.62 yards per pass attempt against the Chiefs, the third highest in franchise history, and spread 15 completions among six receivers who averaged a collective 21.9 yards per catch.
Two weeks after becoming first pair of Tampa Bay players with 100-yard receiving days in the same game in 20 years, Williams finished with four catches for 113 yards and Jackson had four receptions for 66 yards.
Reserve Tiquan Underwood had a 62-yard reception and running back Doug Martin turned a short pass into a 42-yard gain to boost Freeman's numbers, too.
"That's the way we play. ... We are going to take our shots each and every week," Jackson said. "You know if we get a 1-on-1 matchup we are going to be aggressive. We always talk about being aggressive toward the ball. We may not make every play, but we're going to fight for it and we'll win our share of battles out there."
Freeman has elevated his play since throwing for just 110 yards in a six-point loss to the Dallas Cowboys last month.
He overcame a slow start in a two-point loss to Washington the following week with second-half completions of 65 yards to Williams and 54 yards to Jackson, grabbing the attention of coach Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
The Bucs used part of their bye week to review film and pore over the playbook to determine what Freeman does best.
Schiano still wants to build a tough, physical team that thrives on running the ball, the first-year coach concedes one thing his 6-foot-6, 245-pound quarterback is comfortable doing is throwing deep passes.
Especially with Williams making play after play. The 62-yard TD reception on Sunday was the longest of his career, and he's the first Tampa Bay receiver with consecutive 100-yard games since Antonio Bryant in 2008.
"He's definitely playing at a high level. He's always had those ball skills, even when he was back at Syracuse and we used to play him when I was at Rutgers. That is a gift," Schiano said.
"But his focus, his concentration, his concentration, his commitment to working to be the best he can be is really good right now," the coach added. "I just want it to continue because I think he can be a force for us moving forward."
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