It appears Josh Freeman will be blazing trails throughout his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On Wednesday, the National Football League named Freeman its NFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week 17. Coupled with his receipt of the same award in Week Five, Freeman is the first Buccaneer player since 2002 to take the honor twice in the same season.
In fact, Freeman joins former quarterback Brad Johnson (2002) as the only players in franchise history to be named Offensive Player of the Week more than once in the same campaign. The NFL has been distributing the award since 1984. Prior to 2010, no Buccaneer had won it even once since 2004.
(The AFC and NFC Offensive, Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Week awards are selected by the NFL. Freeman is also nominated for the "Air" Player of the Week, which is selected by fan voting on NFL.com. Click here to cast your vote.)
The Week 17 award is further validation that Freeman has quickly developed into one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. He joins New England's Tom Brady, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Philadelphia's Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks in the league to win multiple Offensive Player of the Week awards in 2010, and those same names are found near the top of the league's passing chart. Brady, Rodgers, Vick and Freeman ranked first, third, fourth and sixth respectively in the NFL in passer rating, all of them at 95.9 or better.
Freeman was also nominated for the award in Week 16 after throwing a career-high five touchdown passes in the Buccaneers' 38-15 win over Seattle, though the award went to Rodgers. Over the last month of the season, no quarterback in the league was hotter than Freeman. By completing 71.6% of his passes (78 of 109) for 1,009 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions over the last four games of the season, Freeman compiled a stretch-drive passer rating of 127.8, the best in the NFL. Brady (116.2), Rodgers (106.2) and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (101.3) were the only other NFL quarterbacks over 100 in that span.
Against the Saints, Freeman completed exactly 21 of 26 passes (80.8%) for the second week in a row, turning them into 255 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Playing without two of his top receivers – Arrelious Benn and Sammie Stroughter – he hooked up with 10 different pass-catchers, including five rookies.
Freeman's perfect lob into the back right corner of the end zone in the second quarter allowed rookie wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe to pull in his first career touchdown pass and gave the Buccaneers a 10-7 lead. With the Bucs clinging to a three-point advantage over the defending NFL champs in the third quarter, Freeman converted a fourth-and-one with a fake sneak and an 18-yard touchdown pass to rookie WR Mike Williams. After the Saints had pulled to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Freeman essentially sealed the game with a 54-yard pass to Briscoe on third-and-six from Tampa Bay's 14-yard line. The Bucs would get a field goal on the drive to restore their 10-point lead with just four minutes to play.
Freeman also ran four times for 11 yards in the game, two of which were end-of-game kneel-downs, completing a season in which he ran for 364 yards, the third-most in team history among quarterbacks. On one memorable play he warded off a sack attempt by defensive end Will Smith in the open field with a stiff-arm, buying to scramble right and get around the end for a gain of 11 yards on the Bucs' second touchdown drive.
Freeman was also named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week Five, after he led the Buccaneers to a comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals. In that contest, he completed 20 of 33 passes for 280 yards, one touchdown and one interception while helping the Bucs produce 10 points in the final 1:14 of regulation.