Send in No. 5 now; It's Freeman's time
Well, at least the prelims are over. It took seven losses, including a pounding across the pond, but, provided he didn't lose his passport, Josh Freeman is flying home today as Bucs starting quarterback. Lucky him. It's time.

It was even time while the Bucs were on London time. In the fourth quarter of Sunday's functional bloodletting by the Patriots, Bucs coach Raheem Morris picked up a sideline phone, presumably to talk to his coaches, or the Glazers, or his agent, or the Queen. Then Morris held up five fingers to his assistants on the sideline.

Five. Send 5 in. It's time.

Morris didn't make any switch official after the game, but if he wants to take a further step toward the unemployment line, he'll run out Josh Johnson when the Bucs come off the bye to face the Packers in two weeks. That would be remarkably insane, even for this remarkably insane season.

It's Josh Freeman's turn. I thought all along that this, the Packers game after a bye, would be the game. A lot of people did.

This makes the most sense - avoid the London start, the Patriots, Tom Brady, the buzz, but get the kid's feet wet away from home (Freeman completed his first NFL throw, got sacked, fumbled) and let him start at home.

Never mind that it's the now infamous throwback game, the 0-7 Bucs trotting out in 1976 creamsicle - what a way for the kid to get creamed. But it's time.

What do the Bucs have to lose except more games? And how, exactly, was Josh Johnson at quarterback going to prevent that?

There already has been too much time spent worrying about how Freeman's psyche might be affected by the mountain in front of him. If he's your guy, you've got to go for it. And he is the Bucs guy.

Freeman is the big, strong kid whose performance will ultimately determine the fate of Morris and Bucs general manager Mark Dominik. We knew that the day they drafted Freeman. They knew it, too. It's time to play that hand.

Time to play it before there are so many losses nary a Buc cares anymore. There are still some who do, like the ones who made plays Sunday in the middle of a game they knew they couldn't win. Josh Johnson was one of them.

That's what the rest of this season is about - finding out who doesn't quit, and making it a working lab for Josh Freeman. This team needs a spark right now.

It's nothing against Johnson, who had a few moments in his time as starter. He threw a touchdown Sunday. He also threw a pass a few plays into the game that the Patriots returned for a touchdown. Next contestant ...

If Josh Freeman can handle what lies dead ahead, then he probably can handle anything. If he can't, well, better to know what he has or doesn't have right now. It's time.

There is no turning back. He is going to make mistakes. He is going to get pounded. He is going to begin in the belly of a winless beast that has begun to consume this franchise. Time for the franchise quarterback.

This season is already lost. This is about next season. This is about 5. It's time.

Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 26 October 2009