CINCINNATI — It was supposed to be a throwaway, but quarterback Josh Freeman took a blow under the facemask from Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker as he tossed the ball out of bounds in the first quarter Sunday.
Freeman remained on the ground for several seconds, struggled to his feet then dropped to a knee before staying on the sideline for the rest of the series.
"The guy took a hit early, and I was like, 'Oh, God. Get up, Josh,' " cornerback Ronde Barber said.
But even when Freeman is down, it's hard to count him out.
By passing for 280 yards and a touchdown in the 24-21 win, Freeman authored his fourth fourth-quarter comeback in his six victories.
"I just want to win, you know?" Freeman said. "I mean, a lot of people go into a two-minute drive and they're afraid to make the mistake to lose the game. I want to make the play to win the game. I love winning a lot more than I'm scared of losing."
Freeman paid a price for Sunday's win. He was sacked three times and hit on nine other occasions by the blitz-happy Bengals.
But a halftime adjustment between him and rookie receiver Mike Williams paid off.
"Whoever the corner was, he was sitting hard inside leverage, really daring him to run a go (route) because most teams run a little quick slant," Freeman said. "We went back and talked about it on the sideline. … 'Let's just give him a quick nod and go.' "
Freeman looked off the safety long enough to get Williams a one-on-one matchup with Johnathan Joseph, and Williams beat him for a 20-yard touchdown reception that made the score 21-21 with 1:26 left. Williams, who lost a fumble at the end of the first half, had seven catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.
"It was really a one-on-one back side," Freeman said. "There was a little bit of safety help, but I knew if I could hold the safety long enough, I'd have a true one-on-one.
"When you have a one-on-one with Mike Williams, I have all the confidence in the world with the guy. I'm going to take that shot almost every time. I'm sure sometimes it goes the defense's way. But (Sunday), at the end of the game, it went our way."
Not only is Freeman gaining a reputation for fourth-quarter comebacks, he's getting it done away from home. The win over the Bengals was the Bucs' fourth straight road victory dating to last season.
"I've been saying it for two years; nothing fazes him. He's relentless in his want to succeed," Barber said. "Throwing that ball to Mike in the end zone, I don't know if the defense was expecting that. Throw a deep ball in the end zone with two minutes while you're trying to drive. I was almost afraid we left too much time on the clock.
"But that's the way he plays. He's going to take his chances, and when you've got a guy like Mike Williams who catches everything, why not?"