TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman recently missed a meeting for a team photo but said it was an isolated incident that hasn’t been a distraction for the Buccaneers.
The fifth-year pro said he overslept and did not show up on time for an early morning photo shoot on Labor Day. Later, he was not selected as a team captain, but doesn’t feel the vote was related to the unexcused absence.
Freeman is one of the focal points of another slow start by the Buccaneers, who lost their season opener to the New York Jets on a last-second field goal.
The Bucs host the Saints at 3:05 p.m. Sunday.
Tampa Bay’s offense struggled throughout the preseason and continued to sputter last Sunday, even though Freeman did lead a late scoring drive that put the Bucs ahead with 34 seconds remaining.
“Quarterback is a position of leadership. Obviously missing the team photo is a big deal. ... It’s something I feel badly about,” Freeman said after practice Thursday. “It’s obviously upsetting. But at the same time, you’ve got to put it behind you and continue to play.”
Coach Greg Schiano said Freeman’s absence from the team photo “was dealt with by me internally and we’ve moved on. That was a long time ago in football days.”
The coach added there have been other instances when the quarterback — and other players, for that matter — have been late for team activities.
“There’s things that he’s been late for. There’s things a lot of players have been late for,” Schiano said. “My whole thing is, there’s no excuses, just excused absences. ... The reality is, what we’re trying to do is create winning habits. One of our things is, do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it.”
Freeman completed 15 of 31 passes for 210 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the season opener. He produced a field goal that would have given the Bucs a victory, if not for a personal foul in the closing seconds that put the Jets in range to counter with a field goal for an 18-17 win.
Freeman became the first player in franchise history to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season a year ago, but his inconsistency down the stretch contributed to a 7-9 finish that left Tampa Bay out of the playoffs. He’s in the final year of his contract, placing additional pressure on him to lead the team to a postseason berth in 2013.
Schiano reiterated he has confidence in Freeman. He said he doesn’t feel missing the team photo or other matters, such as the quarterback’s contract situation, have become distractions.
“When you have mishaps, you have things where guys don’t do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it, does it concern me? Sure it does,” Schiano said.
“But the same guy has done a lot of things he is supposed to do, when he’s supposed to do them, in clutch situations, dating back as late as Sunday,” the coach added. “He took the team down and put us in field-goal range to win the game. I think everything has to be in balance.”
Freeman was not voted a team captain after serving as one the past three seasons. Instead, receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Davin Joseph were voted offensive captains in a vote of players tabulated by Schiano.
The quarterback said oversleeping for the team picture and other instances when he’s been late for events were “fairly isolated” incidents.
“Talk about me not being a captain, I feel like it takes away from the honor of (others) being captains. We’ve got a team with eight Pro Bowl guys,” Freeman said. “Do I want to be a captain? Sure. But it’s not something that’s going to make or break me by any stretch.”
The Bucs held a players-only meeting last week before the Jets game, but Freeman said it didn’t pertain to the captain’s vote or the performance of the team.
“Our meeting had nothing to do with panic, nothing to do with get it together, nothing to do with anything of that nature,” Freeman said. “It was all team-bonding sort of stuff.”