Last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, Josh Freeman came up with possibly the worst performance of his career against arguably the worst pass defense he has ever faced (outside of practice).
Needless to say, in the midst of a four-game losing streak, Buccaneers fans are clamoring for answers of which Freeman is the real Freeman.
Up until a few weeks ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find someone who believed Freeman was not "the man" in Tampa Bay for years to come. A few bad losses later and No. 5 has fans and media alike all over the spectrum when it comes to opinions on the quarterback.
Given that we live in a world driven by statistics, there is no better way to figure out the conundrum that is Freeman than comparing some statistics. The following are the statistics of five NFL quarterbacks through a similar time frame to start their careers. All of the statistics used in this article were readily available at pro-football-reference.com
Player A: First 61 Games Started: A 33-28 record with nine fourth-quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives. 1011-of-1832 (55.2%) for 11,887 yards (11.8 yards/completion), 68 Touchdowns (3.7% of passes) and 68 Interceptions (3.7% of passes)
Player B: First 54 Games Started A 29-25 record with nine fourth-quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives. 1146-of-1879 (61%) for 13,912 yards (12.1 yards/completion), 97 Touchdowns (5.2% of passes) and 67 Interceptions (3.5% of passes)
Player C: First 54 Games Started A 23-31 record with eight fourth-quarter comebacks and nine game-winning drives. 1052-of-1784 (59%) for 12,369 yards (11.8 yards/completion), 76 Touchdowns (4.3% of passes) and 58 Interceptions (3.3% of passes)
Player D: First 43 Games Started A 17-26 record with five fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives. 1053-of-1765 (59.7%) for 12,092 yards (11.5 yards/completion), 77 Touchdowns (4.4% of passes) and 52 Interceptions (2.9% of passes)
Player E: First 62 Games Started A 48-14 record with 10 fourth-quarter comebacks and 12 game-winning drives. 1242-of-2015 (61.6%) for 13,919 yards (11.2 yards/completion), 97 Touchdowns (4.8% of passes) and 52 Interceptions (2.5% of passes)
If you look at these numbers without names, they are all pretty close in ability it would seem. One could argue that Player E looks like the best of the bunch, and Player A probably the worst. But, at the end of the day, there is not much separating these players, especially Players B and C who are pretty much even (although it would appear Player B was more of the focal point of his offense).
So who are these mystery signal callers?
Player A: Mark Sanchez
Player B: Peyton Manning
Player C: Josh Freeman
Player D: Matthew Stafford
Player E: Tom Brady
Now it makes sense that Brady had such fantastic numbers. He did win three Super Bowls during this time frame, not to mention him being 24 his first year as a starter, while Freeman is 24 and now in his fourth year as a starter.
If you look purely at the numbers, is Freeman really as bad as some say he is? You could easily argue he is a far better quarterback than Sanchez, and you can at least count on him staying healthy unlike Stafford. Freeman was selected after both of those quarterbacks in the first round of the 2009 draft.
Take into account the teams surrounding these five players during these times:
Sanchez had one of the best defenses in the league backing him up (until this year).
Manning had Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne during this time frame.
Stafford has been throwing to Calvin Johnson for over 75 percent of his games.
Hell, do I need to reiterate Brady's teams won three Super Bowls?
Up until this season, Freeman had never had a 1,000-yard receiver, and the most rushing yards a player had in support was 1,007 by Legarrette Blount two seasons ago.
That's not to mention the poor offensive line play in front of Freeman. He has been sacked on 5.2 percent of his dropbacks in his career. For those of you keeping score, that is 98 times in only 54 games! That does not include the countless times Freeman used his legs to escape a sack.
In comparison, Manning has only been sacked more than 4 percent one season in his career.
Even after the worst game of his professional career where he somehow achieved a 37.5 passer rating and a QBR of 11 out of 100 according to ESPN (click the link for an explanation on QBR), Freeman still ranks 16th in the league in both statistics among qualified players.
Sanchez, meanwhile, ranks 33rd and 36th, respectively. Things could be a whole lot worse Tampa Bay.
Try to remember the Shaun King's and Trent Dilfer's of yesteryear. You would be hard-pressed to find another Buccaneers quarterback in the history of the franchise who could throw 16 touchdowns over six games.
Keep in mind that even after being shut out, the Buccaneers need just 35 points over the next two games to break a single-season franchise record for points scored.
Oh, and by the way, should Freeman throw for 341 yards and 2 touchdowns in the final two games, he will break the single-season franchise records for both categories, with nine fewer interceptions than Brad Johnson's 2003 campaign (Tampa Bay was 7-9 that year).
And not to beat a dead horse, but when Freeman throws those two touchdowns, he will also break the franchise career mark of 77. It only took Vinny Testaverde 76 games to get there.
Without question, Freeman is the best quarterback to ever play in Tampa Bay (Steve Young doesn't count!), and his numbers back that up. Not that it needs to be mentioned again, but he has become that at the age of 24!
This is all without even mentioning the strides Tampa Bay has made to surround their young signal-caller with weapons. Vincent Jackson has been incredible, Mike Williams is developing into a dynamic wideout and Doug Martin is a legitimate work horse running back. Just wait until Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks actually get to play together.
If the front office is willing to put these kinds of players together, that has to tell you something.
So before everyone jumps to say the Buccaneers should go after a new quarterback, they should take a good look at what they have right in front of them. Not only a real "franchise quarterback", but for this team "THE franchise quarterback".
But rest easy nay-sayers. Lucky for you, Freeman's contract expires after next year, and if the Buccaneers don't pay him...someone will.