Freeman finally makes debut
The call that a lot of Bucs fans have been waiting all season for was finally made an ocean away late Sunday. It wasn't a long-distance call, however.
With the Patriots well in command of what would prove to be a 35-7 victory, Bucs coach Raheem Morris simply called up to the Wembley Stadium press box to tell General Manager Mark Dominik he was changing out his quarterbacks. It's still too soon to know whether that call sparked the beginning of the Josh Freeman era, but it's apparent that it won't be long now before the Bucs' first-round draft pick takes over the offense.
"It's the same situation that Byron (Leftwich) was in," said Josh Johnson, the first-year starter whom Freeman relieved midway through the fourth quarter. "If we don't win games, Josh is going to play. I understand what's going on. When Coach came up to me to tell me, I told him you don't have to say a thing. I know that once these games get out of hand that I might come out."
The final score was already in place when Johnson came out and Freeman went in Sunday. And despite completing two of his four passes for 16 yards and running once for 5 more, Freeman didn't do much to tighten things up.
He walked into a sack during his first series and took a delay-of-game penalty before taking a sack and fumbling on a fourth-and-7 play from his own 23 during the second. Still, it was valuable experience that Freeman needs. That's why, after working him only in preseason games and in practice, Morris decided to put his prize recruit into Sunday's game.
"He's been trying to prepare himself to be the best he can be," Morris said. "He's been working hard and studying, beating every coach to the building every morning. And today, we were on a neutral ground here in London, and we got an opportunity to get the kid some snaps, and when that happens you put him in there."
Freeman doesn't seem to have any illusions about what Sunday's performance means for his immediate future. He was quick to point out that the Patriots replaced Tom Brady with backup quarterback Brian Hoyer at the same time.
"It's one of those things where the game's a little bit out of reach and they wanted to give me some experience," he said. "So really, I just saw it for what it was."
The 17th pick in April's draft, Freeman said the biggest difference between his previous experiences in NFL games and the one he got Sunday was he wasn't facing players just trying to make the team. "I had Junior Seau lined up across from me," he said. "I mean, everybody on that team made the 53-man roster and they're all good players. That's what was different."
One thing that was different was Freeman's command of the huddle. Center Jeff Faine said Freeman has been a little soft spoken during practice but that he piped up well under the big lights. "You could hear the entire play call in the huddle, which is a big deal," Faine said. "That was the big difference with him today, so we took some baby steps there. It was good."
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune 26 October 2009