What the Hell Happened to Josh Freeman?

One season ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran off a surprising number of wins, finishing 10-6 and just missing out on a wild card berth that ultimately went to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. They were one of the biggest surprises of 2010, and there was no bigger reason for that resurgence than their second-year signal caller.

To be perfectly frank, Josh Freeman had a remarkable year, tossing 25 touchdown passes to just 6 interceptions, leading Tampa on some epic comebacks and looking like a guy who was on the verge of becoming one of the NFL's elite. I mean, he was so impressive last year as a quarterback and a leader that he was on the precipice of cracking the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL list concocted on The Sports Fan Journal's father site:

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Bucaneers - Freeman is so close to becoming top ten that it's scary. The Rev spoke about how he really wanted to include him on his list and feels it's only a matter of time before he is a mainstay. Joe feels he is on the brink of making the next step, and when you look at the way Tampa Bay's season went, it's easy to see why people are so high on the young man.

Naturally, we all expected even bigger and better things from Freeman in 2011. Unfortunately for him and the Buccaneers, that hasn't happened. If anything, Josh Freeman took one step forward in 2010, and now two steps back here in 2011.

Through 10 weeks, the same Tampa team that just missed out on the playoffs a season ago sits at 4-5 and miles behind the NFC South-leading Saints. Sure, injuries have a lot to do with it, as Tampa has suffered serious attrition on defense and seen its running back core depleted. But the biggest reason the Bucs are on a three-game losing streak and gasping for air is the regression of Josh Freeman.

Last year, only Tom Brady threw less interceptions, while starting all 16 games, than Freeman's six. He was as good as anyone at taking care of the ball and getting the most out of his offense. This year, it's been the polar opposite. Only Phillip Rivers' disastrous season trumps Freeman's. While Rivers' NFL-leading 15 interceptions have been discussed to no end, not much attention has been paid to Freeman's 13 picks and just nine touchdown passes. His 72.6 QB rating is tied with Sam Bradford for the worst in the league, behind such luminaries as Tarvaris Jackson, Kyle Orton and Matt Moore - this after a year where he posted a 95.9 rating.

And it all leaves you scratching your head and wondering what the hell happened to Josh Freeman. It was less than 11 months ago when some of us here were waiting for him to continue his rapid ascent up the QB mountain. Instead, he's fallen off the cliff. This isn't the guy who took care of the ball so well, steered a bevy of comebacks and made the Bucs his team. No, this Josh Freeman looks nothing like the 2010 version, and as a result, Tampa Bay is nowhere near the same feared team.

It's a surprise to me, and I'm guessing a surprise to a lot of others. So again, I ask, what the hell happened to Josh Freeman?

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