LONDON — The Bucs believed they did everything right on this trip to the U.K.
They traveled on a Monday, adjusting to the five-hour time change, took Tuesday off to tour the city, moved to a posh resort to get used to the English turf and did some team bonding.
In fact, the Bucs felt so much at home at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, they got off to their typically slow start, rallied late to set the stage for another Josh Freeman fourth-quarter comeback.
Only this time, he had a rough go of it, he did.
Freeman was intercepted four times, including at the Chicago 35 by cornerback D.J. Moore with 26 seconds left, in a 24-18 loss. It leaves the Bucs (4-3) tied with the Falcons for second in the NFC South, a game behind the Saints.
It was their second defeat in three years in London, where their season seems to drive down the wrong side of the road.
Two years ago, the Bucs waited until Friday to make the trans-Atlantic trip then were blasted 35-7 by the Patriots. This time, the Bears arrived less than 60 hours before kickoff but made the Bucs look sluggish.
Matt Forte rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown and Jay Cutler passed for 226 yards and a touchdown before a crowd of 76,981, the first nonsellout among the five NFL games in London.
"No, London has nothing to blame," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "I love coming to London. We had a great time over here; great preparation.
"There's no excuses, no explanations, no travel excuses, no time zone excuses. (Londoners) did a great job of making us (feel) at home. We did a great job of coming out and not playing well enough to win the football game."
While the four interceptions were the second most of his career (five against Carolina as a rookie in 2009), Freeman was hardly the only one to blame for Sunday's loss heading into the bye week.
The Bucs played without starting tailback LeGarrette Blount (sprained knee). Then on their seventh offensive play, his replacement, Earnest Graham, took a pass in the left flat and slipped. The veteran did not return and wore a walking boot on his right foot after the game.
His status hasn't been determined. But Profootballtalk.com reported it's a torn Achilles' tendon, which, if true, likely means the end of his season.
To make matters worse, fullback Erik Lorig injured his shoulder covering the ensuing punt and spent time on the bench before struggling to return. That left only one active running back: Kregg Lumpkin, who rushed for 15 yards on eight carries.
"If you want to attribute the slow start to anything in this game … really we had a whole game plan going in, a personnel group where we have two running backs," Freeman said.
"Our primary back gets injured. Our fullback, blocking back, gets injured, so we have to change up the game plan completely. That just puts more pressure on our passing game, our drop-back game. We weren't able to get it done."
Graham wasn't the only injury. Safety Tanard Jackson strained his left hamstring returning an interception 43 yards in the first quarter and did not return. Middle linebacker Mason Foster aggravated an ankle injury in the first quarter. Center Jeremy Zuttah, replacing injured starter Jeff Faine, went out in the second half after taking a shot on a knee.
And so it went.
The Bucs trailed 21-5 entering the fourth quarter. But Freeman, who went 29-of-51 for 264 yards, brought the Bucs back with touchdown passes to Kellen Winslow and Dezmon Briscoe.
He could have had more time to stage his ninth come-from-behind win if not for a personal foul on cornerback Aqib Talib that peeled nearly two precious minutes off the clock.
On third and goal from the Bucs 4, Cutler was sacked by Ronde Barber (who earlier recorded the first safety of his career) with 3:44 left. But after the play, Talib got in the face of Bears receiver Roy Williams and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Chicago a first down.
The Bucs eventually forced the Bears to settle for a field goal, but it cost them 1:44 off the clock.
"I will hold myself accountable for any of Aqib's actions," Morris said. "We had to stand up and go out there and play three more downs. And he certainly helped us go out there and stop them. But it certainly ate up clock."
Needing a touchdown to win, Freeman drove the Bucs to the Bears 39. But on second and 10, a pass intended for Preston Parker was intercepted by Moore.
"I always, in those situations, expect to win," said Freeman, who has thrown seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season.
"At that point, I'm trying to make something happen downfield. At the same time, we have two timeouts. But I'm an aggressive quarterback. I'm going to go for it."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]