With his fifth career come-from-behind victory on Sunday with Tampa Bay's 18-17 triumph over St. Louis, QB Josh Freeman has become one of the best around in the fourth quarter in just his second season and is a key reason the Bucs are off to a 4-2 start.
“Try to believeThough the going gets roughThat you gotta hang tough to make itHistory repeats itselfTry and you’ll succeedNever doubt that you’re the oneAnd you can have your dreamsYou’re the best – aroundNothing’s gonna ever keep you downYou’re the best – aroundNothing’s gonna ever keep you downYou’re the best – aroundNothing’s gonna ever keep you down!”“You’re the Best” lyrics by Joe Esposito, The Karate Kid soundtrack
Like Daniel-san knocking out the Cobra Kai one by one in the 1984 classic flick, The Karate Kid,
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman keeps rallying to knock off Tampa Bay’s foes in come-from-behind fashion. On Sunday, it was St. Louis’ turn as the Tampa Bay defense stiffened and shut out the Rams in the second half while Freeman and the offense rolled up 226 yards in the final two quarters and scored the game-winning touchdown in the final 10 seconds to claim a 18-17 victory.
The fourth quarter comeback was Freeman’s fifth in just 15 career starts, which is an amazing feat for a second-year quarterback.
“There’s no other person that I want out there, in my opinion, on my football team when I’m coming from behind than Josh Freeman,” said Bucs head coach Raheem Morris. “I’ve got so much confidence in the young man. He has so much confidence in himself. He says it best. He says he loves winning more than he hates losing, and that’s a great way to live.”
Freeman showed incredible poise, composure and playmaking ability on Tampa Bay’s 16-play, 81-yard drive that was capped off with his 1-yard touchdown pass to running back Cadillac Williams with 10 seconds left.
“Josh Freeman got in the scramble drill and I just kind of got lost [in zone coverage] and he found me,” Williams said.
In all five of his career fourth-quarter comeback victories, including Sunday’s win over the Rams, Freeman completed a combined 33-of-51 passes (64.7 percent) for 423 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He was 11-of-16 for 87 yards and a touchdown against St. Louis, and with each come-from-behind victory, Freeman’s legend continues to grow.
“You don’t see a lot of that, especially with young quarterbacks,” said franchise cornerback Ronde Barber. “You can name a few guys out there across the league with a lot of tenure that do this regularly, but for him it’s amazing. It’s fun to watch him. You feel like you have a chance to win the game. It was 17-3 at one point in that game and the few fans that were here probably left. Because of him, I feel like we always have a chance.”
Just prior to the game-winning 81-yard drive, Freeman tried to project an aura of confidence in the huddle.
“They know that if I have a lot of confidence, they will have a lot of confidence,” Freeman said. “I remember Sammie Stroughter came up to me and said, ‘Are you ready to do this?’ I said, ‘It’s not quite panic time, but yeah, let’s go get it.’ Everybody stepped up.”
After the win, Freeman lauded the play of the offensive line, Stroughter, Cadillac Williams, tight end Kellen Winslow, who made a 9-yard catch on fourth down to keep the drive alive, and rookie wide receiver Mike Williams, whose 20-yard catch set the Bucs up with a first-and-goal at the St. Louis 1.
“We just play. I love winning, like I said, we all do,” Freeman said. “We all love the feeling of a game when you come out on top, that you went out and you beat the other team. We understand that it’s not always going to be pretty. Today, we would’ve liked to have a few more touchdowns early on, it would’ve made things a lot more easy on us. The defense stepped up and shut them out in the second half, and Connor Barth was the majority of our offense. He did a great job keeping us in the game and at the end of the games. I remember my coach in college telling me, ‘Play as well as you can for three-and-a-half quarters. And when it comes down to it, you have to step up and be the hero.’ That’s the mindset I play with. I want to play well enough to win the whole game, but when it comes down to it, and you have to make a play.”
And that’s exactly what Freeman did when he was flushed to his right and suddenly threw a touchdown pass to Williams with 10 seconds left to be the hero – again. His seventh touchdown pass of the season turned out to be Freeman’s “crane” kick on Sunday. All that was missing at the end of the game was the hug from Ali Mills and the smiling nod of approval from Mr. Miyagi.
“He is a real up and coming player,” Rams defensive end Chris Long said of Freeman, whom he sacked in the first half. “Very talented. We knew coming in he was going to be the X-factor for them, and he was. He basically made a lot of plays to help them win the game.”
For the second time this season, the Bucs have bounced back from a blowout loss to stage a fourth quarter rallying win the next game. After losing to Pittsburgh, 38-13, in Week 3, Tampa Bay scored 10 points in less than two minutes to win at Cincinnati. After losing, 31-6, last week against New Orleans, Freeman and Co. came back to beat St. Louis on Sunday.
“As a team we don’t listen to a lot of naysayers and how people tell us how bad we are,” Cadillac Williams said. “I do know this team has a lot of resiliency and this team is going to fight for 60 minutes. This time last year if we get down by a touchdown or two, everything collapses. This time, we stay together and we feel like we have a chance to win.
“This game was a huge game, man. New Orleans lost. Atlanta won, but this game is huge. We’re 4-2 and we’ve put ourselves in position to do some great things.”
If Freeman, who is now 6-3 in his last nine starts, keeps up his winning ways his legend will keep growing. Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2009 may indeed be the best around one day.
And Freeman might even have a memorable – and possibly cheesy – theme song written about his heroic, fourth quarter exploits one day.
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