LONDON – The fourth-quarter phone call Sunday came from the Wembley Stadium sideline to the booth upstairs, not the other way around.
Once the game against the Patriots was well and truly out of hand, Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris decided it was time to give rookie quarterback Josh Freeman his first real taste of the NFL.
Before he did, Morris decided to consult his boss and partner, general manager Mark Dominik.
"I always talk to Mark Dominik," Morris said. "We communicate everything. I was just giving him a heads up. We talked about it."
So, in a mop-up role at the end of a 35-7 blowout thousands of miles away from Tampa, the Freeman Era began.
Morris did not commit to Freeman as the starting quarterback when the Bucs return to action in two weeks against the Packers at Raymond James Stadium. But no, he didn't exactly rule it out.
It would've been hard to do so after Josh Johnson finished his night 9-for-26 with 156 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions – including one on Tampa Bay's first possession that New England's Brandon Meriweather turned into a touchdown.
Johnson was realistic about his immediate future.
"I'm not taking advantage of the opportunity," Johnson said. "That's what it all boils down to. We are an 0-7 football team. So, somebody has to step up and do something about it."
Morris refused to lay the blame on Johnson, who after all was making only his fourth NFL start.
"It's kind of hard to point fingers at anybody," Morris said. "We have dropped balls, blown protection assignments and all of these things are not the quarterback's fault."
The first time Freeman dropped back to pass, he was sacked by backup defensive tackle Mike Wright. He settled down from there, completing two of four passes for 16 yards and scrambling five yards on his only rush attempt.
The 21-year-old from Kansas State tried to play it cool in terms of his potential debut in front of the true home crowd in two weeks.
"It's not really my call, not really something I'm going to think about," Freeman said. "I'm just thinking about getting ready for the Packers and enjoying a little time off with my family [during the bye week]." As for the game itself …
For one week, at least, the Bucs didn't have to worry about a TV blackout. The soccer-mad, football-curious fans of Great Britain flocked to Wembley Stadium Sunday to the tune of 84,254, the largest crowd ever for a Bucs "home" game. It was, by the way, more than twice as many fans than actually came to last week's loss to Carolina at Raymond James Stadium.
Not even the early afternoon broadcast of one of the most intriguing matches of the English Premier League season – Liverpool 2, Manchester United 0 – prevented nearly every seat from being filled.
(Then again, the stadium did seem to get a lot more full once the Glazer family's "other" team was done playing about an hour before kickoff. Soccer is, after all, King on this side of the Atlantic. And it always will be.)
Still, as ugly as the game turned out to be, the Bucs and the NFL could not have asked for a much better spectacle than this third installment of the International Series.
The big, Patriots-partisan crowd got to see its team romp in a 35-7 victory. As expected, the Bucs simply did not match up against a team that appears to be steaming toward the playoffs after missing out in 2008.
The crowd also got to experience the kind of NFL atmosphere generally reserved for Super Bowl Sunday.
There was a pre-game performance by British pop singer Calvin Harris, who resembles American actor Seth Green but apparently is a big deal in the United Kingdom.
There were giant, helmet-shaped balloons, two for each team. There were 20-foot-high fabric portraits of Ronde Barber and Antonio Bryant, as well as a couple of Patriots players, blowing in the wind machine on the sideline.
There were cheerleaders and pyrotechnics greeting the Bucs as they ran from the tunnel, a nice rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by Toni Braxton and a huge sing-along for Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins' operatic version of God Save the Queen.
Which gives rise to the question: Can Freeman save the Bucs?
Center Jeff Faine seemed to come away with a favorable first impression.
"I thought his character and his demeanor in the huddle was good," Faine said. "It was actually kind of weird. It was better than what it is in practice. You know, it was almost like he had to play under the lights to come in and really speak up."
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said the defense gets a good look at Freeman on the scout team every week, and the veteran defensive captain is intrigued by what he sees.
"Josh is starting to get it," Barber said. "Who knows what it will be like when you put him in front of a lot of bullets, but the kid has a strong arm, he seems to have some poise about him, which will hopefully work for him down the road whenever he gets his shot, and I'm not sure when that's going to be.
"But you know, he's big, he's strong, he's got all the intangibles. On paper, he should be good. Let's see what he looks like when he has to play."