The Buccaneers lost to the New England Patriots, 35-7, to fall to 0-7 on the season. But that wasn’t the biggest story line to emerge from the NFL’s 2009 International Series in London, England.
The Josh Freeman era has officially begun.
Freeman, Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick in 2009, saw his first regular season NFL action, entering the game at the 9:25 mark in the fourth quarter with the Bucs trailing 35-7. Bucs head coach Raheem Morris phoned Mark Dominik before inserting Freeman to make sure he was on the same page as the general manager.
“I did. I always go and talk to Mark Dominik,” Morris said. “Mark Dominik is the guy I lean on. That’s the guy we always talk to. We evaluate. We communicate everything. I wanted to give him a head’s up.
“We talked about it and we’re okay. We’re okay. We’re comfortable in our decision to go ahead with Josh.”
Morris didn’t necessarily commit to starting Freeman against Green Bay after the team’s bye week next Sunday, saying only that “Everything will be evaluated over this weekend.”
However, with a 0-7 record, it may be hard to stick with Josh Johnson, who didn’t fare well against New England. It appears as if his tenure as the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback is over – at least for now.
Johnson, who went 0-4 in his four starting opportunities, was only 9-of-26 for 156 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions against New England, including one that was returned for a 39-yard touchdown by Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, who had two on the day, on Tampa Bay’s opening possession. It was the shakiest and most sporadic game of Johnson’s young NFL career and it may be the last for a while.
However, Freeman’s debut wasn’t much better. His first drop back resulted in a 7-yard sack, followed by a 13-yard completion to Brian Clark on his first NFL pass attempt. His pass attempt to Kellen Winslow was incomplete on third-and-5.
On his next series, Freeman took a delay of game penalty and was sacked again, fumbling on his second takedown. He finished his two drives 2-of-4 for 16 yards and a QB rating of 60.4, which was about 30 points higher than Johnson’s.
“More opportunity to evaluate our people,” Morris said, when asked why Freeman was inserted into the game in the fourth quarter. “You’ve got a neutral ground. You’ve got nothing out there. We weren’t going to make a comeback. You have an opportunity to get out there and get people evaluated and get Josh some reps, so we made the change at quarterback.”
Across the field, Tom Brady showed the Buccaneers what a real quarterback looks like, completing 23-of-32 for 308 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Brady was only sacked once and connected with receiver Wes Welker ten times for 107 yards and one touchdown.
Brady also hit wide receiver Sam Aiken for a 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and tight end Ben Watson had a 35-yard touchdown in the third quarter as the Patriots poured it on and pulled away.
“When he got his opportunities he made them, and that’s what great quarterbacks do,” Morris said.
The Bucs don’t know if they have a great quarterback or not in Freeman, but will begin finding out in two weeks when he likely gets his first start against the visiting Packers after the bye week. During the bye week, the Bucs also need to re-discover their running game in order to give Freeman more support.
Tampa Bay rushed for only 89 yards on 26 carries (3.4 avg.) against New England, with Derrick Ward accounting for 48 of them. The Bucs defense did a much better job defending the run than it did a week ago when it allowed Carolina to rush for over 250 yards. The Patriots rushed for 107 yards on 28 carries (3.8 avg.), but 17 of that came on a quarterback scramble by rookie Brian Hoyer. Laurence Maroney rushed for only 43 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries (3.3 avg.).
The run defense was one of Tampa Bay’s improved elements on Sunday.
“You’ve seen [the team] get better every single week except for the Giants game, which I thought was a setback,” Morris said. “We just need to play better. We need to play better across the board. We’ll get better as a team.
“I don’t have a locker room divided. I don’t have guys pointing fingers. I have guys that have to dig deeper within themselves and get the best out of themselves and get ready to come back and win some football games after this bye. You’ve got nine more games, bro.”
The question is, is that how many games Morris has left as the coach of the Buccaneers if they don’t win a game soon?
Meriweather got the Patriots off to a hot start when he stepped in front of rookie receiver Sammie Stroughter and picked off Johnson, returning the interception for a 39-yard touchdown. With 12:28 left in the first quarter, New England led Tampa Bay 7-0.
Tampa Bay’s second possession was more promising as Williams picked up 30 yards on an 11-yard run and a 19-yard reception, followed by an 11-yard gain on third-and-9 by Stroughter down to the New England 33. On first down, Johnson was intercepted by Meriweather again, this time on a pass intended for Michael Clayton at the 15-yard line. Meriweather returned the pick 31 yards to the New England 46.
After the Patriots’ first drive was stymied due to a three-and-out, Brady and the offense drove 67 yards for a touchdown. Rookie receiver Brandon Tate got the drive started with an 11-yard end around to the New England 44. Brady hit Randy Moss on back-to-back plays for gains of nine yards and 37 yards down the left side of the field down to the 37. Two plays later on second-and-13 from the Tampa Bay 14, Brady connected with Welker with a 14-yard touchdown on a wide receiver screen. With 2:16 left in the first quarter, the Patriots’ lead increased to 14-0.
The Bucs offense was forced to punt after a three-and-out, and Welker returned the punt 24 yards back to the Tampa Bay 30. On third-and-4 from the 24, Brady threw a 9-yard strike to Moss for a first down at the 15. But on second-and-6 from the 11, Brady’s pass intended for Moss in the end zone was picked off by free safety Tanard Jackson.
However, Tampa Bay couldn’t pick up a first down and had to punt the ball back to New England. On third-and-10 from the Patriots’ own 46, Brady hit Aiken on a crossing route. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud missed the tackle and Aiken cruised down the right sidelines for a 54-yard touchdown. With 11:18 left in the second quarter, the Patriots increased their lead to 21-0.
Tampa Bay finally got on the board just before halftime. Ward ripped off a 12-yard run out to the New England 47 at the two-minute warning. Three plays later on third-and-14, Johnson completed an 18-yard pass to Antonio Bryant down to the New England 33 against rookie cornerback Darius Butler. On the next play, Bryant beat Butler again down the right sidelines as Johnson dropped a beautiful pass into his arms at the goal line for a touchdown. With 1:14 left in the second quarter, New England’s lead was cut to 21-7.
The Patriots took the opening kickoff in the second half and marched 73 yards for a touchdown. Brady was 6-of-7 for 76 yards on the drive with his tight ends doing most of the damage. Chris Baker had two catches for 20 yards on the drive, including a 16-yarder on second-and-20 from the New England 41. On first-and-20 from the Tampa Bay 35, Brady found Watson down the seam ahead of linebacker Geno Hayes down the seam for a 35-yard touchdown. With 9:13 left in the third quarter, New England’s lead swelled to 28-7.
Another New England touchdown in the fourth quarter padded the Patriots’ lead, which increased to 35-7 with 9:25 remaining in regulation. The 10-play, 89-yard drive consumed 6:03 off the clock and ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Maroney. Brady hooked up with Welker three times for gains of 13, 16 and 16 yards on the scoring march.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME There were few individual bright spots in Tampa Bay’s 35-7 loss to New England in London. One of those was free safety Tanard Jackson, who made a dramatic interception in front of Randy Moss in the end zone to prevent the Patriots from taking a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. Jackson, who returned from a four-game NFL suspension three weeks ago, recorded his second interception in as many weeks.
Last week, Jackson returned an interception for a touchdown against Carolina. Jackson’s two picks have already tied his single-season record for interceptions that he set as a rookie in 2007, and he has nine more games to play this season. Jackson was also the leading tackler for the Buccaneers in London, notching a season-high eight stops, in addition to breaking up a pass.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… For all intents and purposes, this game was over when New England safety Brandon Meriweather intercepted Josh Johnson and returned the pick 39 yards for a touchdown during Tampa Bay’s opening possession due to the talent differential between the two teams. New England is a Super Bowl-caliber team, while Tampa Bay is still looking for its first win of the season. Once the Bucs fell behind, they had little realistic chance to mount a comeback on such a superior team. By the time the Bucs scored a touchdown before halftime, the Patriots had already put 21 points on the board. The Bucs never pulled within less than 14 points.
STATS THAT COUNT The Buccaneers have started off the season 0-7 for the first time since 1985 when they did so under head coach Leeman Bennett. Tampa Bay has now lost 10 straight games, dating back to last year. It’s the second-longest losing streak since the team started off 0-26 from 1976-77. … Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib recorded his fourth interception of the season when he picked off Tom Brady in the second quarter. That ties his single-season high from a year ago. Talib leads the Bucs in interceptions this season. … Stylez G. White and Jimmy Wilkerson combined to sack Tom Brady in the second quarter. Wilkerson leads the Bucs with a career-high 5.5 sacks, while White has 1.5 sacks on the year. … The Patriots were 6-of-12 (50 percent) on third downs, while the Buccaneers were 4-of-15 (27 percent) on third downs. … Running back Derrick Ward led the Bucs with 48 yards on 13 carries (3.7 avg.), while Cadillac Williams was held to 29 yards on 11 carries (2.6 avg.). … For the second straight week, rookie Sammie Stroughter led the Bucs in receiving with three catches for 63 yards. … Wide receiver Antonio Bryant had his second touchdown catch of the year and finished with two receptions for 51 yards.
SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE WR Michael Clayton LT Donald Penn LG Jeremy Zuttah C Jeff Faine RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Kellen Winslow WR Antonio Bryant FB Earnest Graham RB Cadillac Williams QB Josh Johnson
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE LE Jimmy Wilkerson DT Ryan Sims DT Chris Hovan RE Stylez G. White WLB Geno Hayes MLB Barrett Ruud SLB Quincy Black LCB Aqib Talib RCB Ronde Barber FS Tanard Jackson SS Sabby Piscitelli
MISSING IN ACTION Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:
QB Byron Leftwich (emergency QB) RB Clifton Smith DE Kyle Moore DE Dre Moore OT Demar Dotson CB Marcus McCauley G Shawn Murphy C Jonathan Compas
BUCS IN-GAME INJURIES The Bucs did not report any in-game injuries.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Patriots home game at Wembley Stadium in London was 84,254 The kickoff temperature was 59 degrees under clear skies with 59 percent humidity.
UP NEXT The Buccaneers (0-7) will be having their bye week next Sunday and will return to action at home against the Green Bay Packers on November 8, which will be the team’s throwback game. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. and will be televised on Fox.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org