BAGSHOT, England — The last time the Bucs played in London, they ran into a double-decker busload of problems.
Raheem Morris, in his first season as head coach in 2009, arrived with the team on Friday night, making it difficult to adjust to the five-hour time change.
The Saturday afternoon walkthrough at Wembley Stadium that year was canceled due to bad weather, forcing the team to conduct its final practice in the cramped ballroom of their central London hotel.
And the team was worse, too. Quarterback Josh Freeman made his NFL debut in the final minutes of what turned into a 35-7 loss to the Patriots.
Contrast that with this week's trip to London to play the Bears. Tampa Bay (4-2 and tied atop the NFC South with New Orleans) arrived Monday evening, gave the players Tuesday off to sightsee and began practice on a converted pitch just a short walk from their opulent Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa, located in Bagshot, 45 minutes southwest of London.
The plan was not by accident. In addition to agreeing to take its team to England for the entire week, the Glazer family was successful in asking the NFL for a home game before the team's departure.
"I think it's been really good for our young football team," general manager Mark Dominik said of the togetherness. "It's almost been like a mini-training camp for us, kind of bringing the guys together. It's really tightened up the relationships."
Dominik admits the Bucs' plan in 2009 might have doomed them from the start, not that beating the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady would've been easier. Morris wasn't calling the defensive plays yet, and Freeman had been the No. 3 quarterback behind Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson.
"Actually, this is the birthplace of Josh Freeman," Morris said. "He got out there and got a couple snaps. … But I've got a different quarterback (now). Some of the questions we may have had the first time we came out here, we got some of those answers."
Freeman, who won 10 games last season and is 17-14 overall, has a different outlook as well.
"I remember it was cool," Freeman said. "It was a great atmosphere at Wembley. I remember (linebacker) Junior Seau being right across from me. Now, I feel great, confident. I know what I'm seeing. I'm not seeing ghosts like you might as a rookie getting your first start. There's really no anxiety going into it. … It feels ages ago."
By the time the Bucs get to the midpoint of the 2011 season, they will have traveled more than 14,000 miles, including trips to San Francisco, London and New Orleans (after the bye week).
The NFL has floated the idea of playing two games at Wembley each season, perhaps with one team that returns every year. There has been speculation that the Bucs could be regular participants because of the Glazer family's ownership of the Manchester United soccer team.
Morris isn't ready to endorse that idea, but his team has embraced the hardship for the good of the game.
"This thing is a little bigger than the Bucs," Morris said. "It's more about the NFL promoting that game and anything that's going to promote our game, I'm all for it. … You've got a young Bucs team coming out to London, setting an example, it's awesome. Unfortunately for our fans back at home, it was a home game. But somebody has to do it, somebody has to suck it up and it was us this time.
"I don't know if it'll be an annual trip or not. Of course, that's for the league to decide and our ownership. For us, we're about promoting the game. You guys will probably get tired and want to see some other people, so we'll see."
It also remains to be seen if the Bucs' plan will produce results on Sunday against Chicago. This year, the Bears are arriving Friday. Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn't believe the Bucs' early arrival gives them an advantage.
"No, I don't," Smith said. "For us, we wanted to keep, as much as we could, a regular game-week routine in place. That's what we're doing. As far as getting acclimated, you can bog your mind down with all of that talk, but we're going to go there and be there Friday. We're leaving (today) from here and that's plenty of time. … I don't think that's an issue at all.
"I think normally when you go overseas, I think the best football team normally wins. It's kind of simple as that. And that's what'll happen this time around.''
Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.