Buccaneers get first win of season
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 9 November 2009

All it took was playing in an orange and white throwback uniform for rookie quarterback Josh Freeman to show the Bucs his true colors.

Freeman threw three touchdowns in his first start to lead the Bucs to a 38-28 win over the Packers on Sunday. Freeman rallied the Bucs from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to help them end an 11-game losing streak and celebrate their first victory of the season.

"I think he played tremendous, and there's a lot of room to get better," receiver Michael Clayton said of Freeman. "He was fumbling over his words a little bit, but everybody was patient with him. We all know what he was going through. He stayed poised the whole game and got more comfortable with every drive. You could just tell the kid is going to be something special. We're a better team because he's at the helm right now."

Sunday's game played in the Bucs' retro 1976 uniforms was a sentimental journey for fans and a chance to honor Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon as the first inductee into the team's Ring of Honor. But Freeman and the Bucs turned it into a wild Back to the Future ride.

With 7:15 left, Freeman entered the huddle trailing by five points and directed an eight-play, 72-yard drive capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Sammie Stroughter. For coach Raheem Morris, there was relief in finally getting his first win. He was given a Gatorade bath by running backs Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams and presented the game ball in the locker room by cornerback Ronde Barber.

"Actually, (Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer) came up to me and said, 'You stole my thunder,' " Barber said. "I said, 'Sorry.' They gave (the ball) to me and told me to do it. But it's a special feeling. Raheem is a special guy. I think we all know that, and we're really happy for him."

For the winking, stiletto-chewing Bucco Bruce? There was no more grief. Once synonymous with a 26-game losing streak, the Bucs might want to consider wearing their creamsicle uniforms next week at Miami.

"We have to get into some negotiations to see if we can put on our orange some more," Morris said of the creamsicle-jersey uniform, which the 1976 Bucs wore just once, in a preseason game, before adopting it full time in 1977.

At 21 years, 299 days, Freeman became the youngest Bucs starting quarterback. History will show he went 14-of-31 for 205 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in becoming only the third Bucs rookie to win his first start. Time will probably erase the fact that 27 of the Bucs' 38 points came with help from the defense or special teams.

The Packers' Aaron Rodgers entered as the NFL's top-rated passer with only two interceptions. But he was picked off three times, including one returned 35 yards for a score by safety Tanard Jackson with 35 seconds left.

Linebacker Geno Hayes blocked a punt that Barber returned 31 yards for a touchdown. Cornerback Elbert Mack, burned for a 74-yard touchdown catch by James Jones on the Packers' second play, returned a pick 36 yards to set up the Bucs' first touchdown. And with the Bucs trailing by 11, Clifton Smith returned a kickoff 83 yards to set up Freeman's second touchdown pass, a 7-yarder to tight end Kellen Winslow.

The Bucs defense also sacked Rodgers six times after it entered the game with only 11. But what everyone will remember from this game is the poise Freeman displayed on the winning touchdown.

"I wasn't feeling pressed at all," said Freeman, the 17th overall pick in April. "It's one of those things where, of course the situation is kind of stressful. It wasn't something where somebody had to come out with a big rah, rah speech like, 'C'mon, Josh, let's get this done.' It's just that everybody knew it was our time to make something happen."

Freeman started by firing 22 yards to Winslow. Then he got a break as linebacker A.J. Hawk was called for illegal contact, nullifying his interception with 6:39 left. The next big play of the march was a 29-yard completion to receiver Michael Clayton, who fought his way inside of cornerback Al Harris to catch the underthrown ball.

Still, the Bucs almost came up empty. Facing fourth and 4 at the Green Bay 7 with 4:20 to play, Morris eschewed a field goal to go for the lead. Freeman pumped fake a slant to Stroughter, who then ran a fade to the corner of the end zone and made a leaping catch.

"I think he's going to have a hell of a future," Clayton said of Freeman. "I'm proud of him. He made everything happen. He kept his composure, got rid of the nervousness and kept fighting."

Time ran out, and the Bucs had, indeed, turned back the clock. The stadium echoed with one more song.