A poised rookie takes charge for Bucs
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 9 November 2009

If you wanted poise, you saw it. If you wanted hope, you have it. If you wondered whether young Josh Freeman has the stuff to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, your question has been answered in the affirmative. Fans have waited for a quarterback to make plays, to move the ball, and to give the Bucs the chance to win a ballgame. At times it seemed like too much to ask.

Not any more. For at least one week, party like it's 1979.

Party on because Freeman's first start in the National Football League was the first sign that the future might not be so bad after all. How does three touchdown passes grab you? The day was supposed to be a celebration of the '79 division champs and Lee Roy Selmon's name being placed first in the Ring of Honor. Instead, it was a new beginning that spared us further talk about a winless season and all the stuff.

You can thank the rookie. "The guy was very poised - unreal, like, wow," running back Cadillac Williams said after the 38-28 victory against Green Bay. "That's the hardest position to play in football, man. For that guy to come in and do the job he did, unbelievable."

He was clutch. He was ... oh, fill in your own cliche. After a game like that, they all apply. Trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter, the kid threw a pair of touchdown passes. The second one was a 7-yard gem on fourth down to Sammie Stroughter with 4:14 to play that put the Bucs ahead. That really says enough, doesn't it?

"That's why I play football. I want to win games," Freeman said. "That's the mindset all the guys on the team have."

Indeed, on a team starved for leadership, the rookie took charge. "He played with no fear," said Doug Williams, current Bucs executive and quarterback of that '79 team. "He kept his eyes downfield the whole time. He made plays."

They had been saying just such things for weeks at One Buc Place while we waited for Freeman to take his turn. They said he had an attitude to go with his arm, that he would take chances downfield instead of dink-and-dunk. They said he would be mobile enough to keep plays alive. They said mistakes wouldn't rattle him. They were right.

"We still have to be patient," Raheem Morris said on the occasion of his first victory as a head coach. "We still have to let him grow. He made some mistakes he can go back and look at himself that will allow him to get better and better."

You can fine tune mechanical things and execution but it's not so easy to change the attitude with which you play the game. You have it or you don't. Freeman has an attack mentality to go with his big body, arm and vision and the Bucs turned him loose. "I felt really relaxed," he said. "I was at peace."

Even so, a lot of teams would have made the rookie QB sit on it when the Bucs got the ball at their 16 with two minutes left in the first half. Freeman, instead, threw six passes and scrambled 11 yards for a first down as the Bucs moved close enough for a 38-yard field goal and three points.

Other teams might have played it safe when facing fourth-and-goal at the 7, trailing 28-23 with a little more than four minutes to play. A field goal would have been "by the book." Freeman was allowed to go for it and wound up throwing what proved to be the winning TD pass.

"It's a sign of things to come," backup quarterback Byron Leftwich said. "Here's a kid who can play the game of football. What we have to do is keep putting him in position to make those plays that he made constantly all week in practice and that he made today."

Leftwich huddled with Freeman on the night before the game, just wanted to make sure the kid was ready. "He had nothing to lose," Leftwich said. "His strength is going out there and slinging the damn ball. I wanted to make sure he understood that, to go out there and throw it the way he can. Just make the plays that he can make."

Well, he did that and now he'll get the chance to do more. This is his team now, and if the Bucs have their way it will stay his team for many years. No one is saying any corners were turned Sunday. Nor is anyone saying that a 1-7 team is ready to take on the world.

But it has been almost a year since the Bucs last won a football game - 11 straight beatings that threatened to sap the life out of a team and its town. It feels a little different today. People saw what they needed to see. That ought to be worth at least a little party, don't you think?

Creamsicles for everyone!