On a day when a franchise celebrated its past, it got a peek at its future. And through that window came relief for a head coach. For a city, triumph. For a team, victory.
And for a quarterback, an arrival.
On a cool, breezy November afternoon, Josh Freeman stood tall. He played with poise, he made good decisions, and just when it looked like the Packers were going to roll out of town with a victory, he delivered.
Everyone has a defining moment in their career that signifies their arrival. Some images stand out in a fan’s mind more than others. Some moments are more inspiring than others. For me, Freeman’s moment came in the fourth quarter.
After an 83-yard kickoff return by Clifton Smith, Freeman took the field with under 13 minutes left in the game, down by 11. On 2nd and goal, he dropped back and scanned the field to find his options well-covered in the secondary. He spied a running lane and darted for the end zone. As the defense collapsed to stop Freeman, whose eyes remained downfield, he saw that the collapsing defense allowed Kellen Winslow to spring free in the back of the end zone. Just as he reached the line of scrimmage, he pulled back and put a high-arching pass where only Winslow could get it, and he did.
"That’s what big-time quarterbacks do," head coach Raheem Morris said. "They keep their eyes down the field even when they break the pocket, always looking for the big play."
At that moment, a rookie made a veteran move. A kid manipulated the fourth-ranked passing defense and began what would be his first fourth-quarter comeback, something Buccaneer quarterbacks have historically lacked the ability to do.
In the fourth quarter alone, Freeman was 6 for 10 passing with 78 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, his numbers were hardly impressive, despite his three touchdowns. He did, however, complete 14 passes to five different receivers, and took only one sack, despite constant pressure.
The mistakes were there. There was an interception on a poorly thrown ball. There were missed shots at open receivers down the field. But when it counted, he delivered.
"He threw some shots down the field," Morris said. "Some of them will be big plays soon. And that’ll be really exciting. But it was a great start for him. We gotta keep building and keep growing, and obviously patience it still gonna be a virtue."
Though it's only been one game, the future looks bright for Freeman and the Buccaneers. He showed the intangible skills - the instincts, the things you can’t teach - and as the supporting cast gets better, the numbers will follow, including the victories.