Josh Freeman has led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory in five of his last seven starts. And in four of those five wins, the Buccaneers were trailing when the second half began.
Freeman's late-game composure was on display again this past Sunday, when the 22-year-old quarterback led the Buccaneers to 10 points in the final 86 seconds of a 24-21 victory at Cincinnati. Freeman's poise is rare for a player his age, and so is this: On Wednesday, he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
The NFL has been distributing Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week awards since the early 1980s and added a Special Teams category in 1993. Over that time, Buccaneers players have won 74 such awards, most recently Micheal Spurlock's Special Teams nod in Week 16 of last season.
The last time a Buccaneer player as young as 22 years old won a Player of the Week award, however, was in 1998 when wide receiver Jacquez Green accomplished the feat on special teams in Week Two. Running back Warrick Dunn was also 22 when he won an offensive award in Week Two of the 1997 campaign, as was defensive tackle Santana Dotson when he took home the defensive award in Week Four of 1992.
There are no quarterbacks on that list, of course, because few 22-year-olds show the mature form of game that Freeman has played with in leading his team to a 3-1 start. Two supporting notes: Freeman has an outstanding 100.2 passer rating on third downs and a fine mark of 84.2 in the fourth quarter.
Of course, it was the Cincinnati game alone that was responsible for his first Offensive Player of the Week Award, which came in just his 13th career start. In that contest, Freeman completed 20 of 33 passes for 280 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also ran three times for 20 yards, twice converting critical third downs with his scrambles. Freeman managed this production, and led the Bucs to a season-high 391 yards of offense, despite absorbing three sacks and numerous other hard hits from the Bengals' defense.
Some of Freeman's best work occurred in the fourth quarter, with his team trailing 21-14. After an Aqib Talib interception gave the ball back to the Buccaneers at midfield with 2:18 left in regulation, he completed three of four passes for 41 yards and took care of the other nine yards of the drive with a third-down scramble. The final play of the march was a 25-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Mike Williams.
The Buccaneers got the football back minutes later on Sabby Piscitelli's interception and return to the Cincinnati 34-yard line. With only 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter and no timeouts to work with, the Bucs had time for just one very precise play before trying a game-winning field goal. Freeman shortened the eventual kick by Connor Barth to a 31-yarder by hitting a spectacular 21-yard sideline pass to wide receiver Micheal Spurlock.
Amazingly, Freeman is the first Buccaneer to win Offensive Player of the Week honors in almost six years. The last to do so was running back Michael Pittman, who claimed the award in Week Nine of the 2004 season. Buccaneer players won three Player of the Week awards in 2009, all on special teams. In addition to the aforementioned award for Spurlock, Clifton Smith took home the honor in Week Nine and Sammie Stroughter claimed it in Week Six.
The last quarterback to win an NFC Offensive Player of the Week award as a Buccaneer was Brad Johnson, so honored in Week Six of the 2003 campaign.