Here at the start, you wanted to see progress. You wanted to see presence. You wanted to see poise.
Perfection? That seemed like too much to ask.
And, my, hasn't Josh Freeman been doing his homework?
The first results of Freeman's offseason work were on display Saturday when he showed up at Sun Life Stadium as a more polished, more precise quarterback. True, it was only one of those glorified practices the NFL calls preseason games and, true, it was only a brief night of work. True, drawing too much optimism from a practice test is premature.
On the other hand, is there a bad time to play well?
One night, and it appears the Bucs' favorite son is growing up. Freeman threw four passes, and he completed four passes. He looked comfortable in the huddle, decisive in the pocket, efficient on the move. Most of all, he looked about five years ahead of last year.
"I feel completely different," Freeman said. "Last year in my first game, I was thinking, 'Wow, I'm playing against the Tennessee Titans.' This year, it was, 'All right, the first-team offense has some things we want to accomplish.' "
For two series, for a dozen snaps, Freeman played as well as you would have hoped. On a sloppy night and a swampy field with "a layer of mud between the ball and my hand," Freeman was the smoothest thing in the stadium. If nothing else, there were clues that he has come a long way toward answering his biggest questions.
Accuracy? Did you see Freeman's soft-touch pass down the right sideline for 30 yards to rookie Mike Williams? It was a nice throw, as fluid as a man tossing a wad of paper into a wastebasket. It was a throw you would not have expected from Freeman a year ago when he was busy throwing 18 interceptions in nine starts as a rookie.
"I think I could have thrown it," Freeman said. "But if I throw that pass 10 times in a row, I'm going to hit it a lot more times this year."
Patience? Did you see Freeman buy time before his 13-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Stroughter? Twice before, Freeman had broken the pocket and run for short gains. But this time, he read the coverage, and he waited, and then he flicked the ball to his left to Stroughter, who cut sharply and ran into the end zone. Freeman could have made that throw a year ago, but could he have made that read? Maybe not.
"They covered it well at first," Freeman said. "I was able to get the corner to think I was throwing it to (Michael) Clayton. My next read was to throw it out of bounds."
In other words, Freeman was so good against the Dolphins that he left you wanting more.
If there was a quibble to be made, that was it. Freeman still needs as much work as any quarterback in the league, especially given the youth of his receivers, and his night was so short.
Think of it like this: Of the six preseason games played before Saturday night, all 12 of the starting quarterbacks threw more times than Freeman, and none of them took fewer snaps. The Saints' Drew Brees took 26 snaps, for instance, in his preseason opener. The Eagles' Kevin Kolb took 27.
Given the weather, given his results, however, it's hard to argue with the Bucs getting Freeman out of the game. Admit this: If Freeman had been injured in his third series, you would have wondered what in the world he was doing out there. Of course you would have.
As it was, Freeman played enough for you to see why he has spent so much time watching film and working out during the offseason. There were even times when his coaches told him to slow it down before he pushed his body too hard.
Still, quarterbacks get better in the offseason, particularly in that offseason between his rookie year and his sequel. And it was nice to see a few suggestions that Freeman will be better this year.
Do you remember Freeman a year ago? In his first game against the Titans, he looked like a man standing in the middle of the interstate as he tried to figure out how he got there and how he might get away without hurting himself. He hit only 5 of 12 passes against the Titans. For the entire preseason, Freeman had a quarterback rating of 41.0. (Against the Dolphins, Freeman had a rating of 158.3, the highest possible.)
By comparison, Freeman looked older, more polished on Saturday night. He looked in control.
In the weeks ahead, the real tests will begin. Freeman is still only 22, and he has only nine career starts. There will be stumbles along the way. He is going to have to prove he's accurate enough, efficient enough and resilient enough to make you think the offense — and the quarterback — will be better than expected.
After Saturday night, however, it doesn't seem like too much to ask.
Odds are, you think more of Freeman today than you did a couple of days ago.
As preseason games go, that's a good way to start.