TAMPA — Here's what you might be glad you missed on must-not-see TV, Saturday's blacked out Bucs-Chiefs preseason game.
Quarterback Josh Freeman suffered a thumb injury on his right (throwing) hand during the first series of the Bucs' 20-15 win.
X-rays revealed Freeman fractured the tip of his thumb. He will not play for the rest of the preseason. But the team said he is expected to be ready for the season opener against the Browns on Sept. 12.
"I was hoping it was just jammed," said Freeman, his thumb immobilized with a splint and heavily bandaged. "But it was a little different pain than just being jammed. When I saw the X-ray, they said there was a little fracture.
"When I heard that … I was kind of freaking out. They said, 'Hey, just take care of it, and it'll be a couple weeks.' When I heard that, it made me feel a lot better."
While the prognosis appears optimistic, Bucs coach Raheem Morris said he wasn't sure when Freeman will be cleared to practice.
"How big of a setback? It's a team setback, obviously, when you lose your first quarterback," Morris said. "We're lucky. It could be worse."
Freeman completed his first two passes. But on second and 5 from the Kansas City 13, his hand hit a helmet during his followthrough of an incompletion to tight end John Gilmore. On the next play, he fired incomplete to Sammie Stroughter.
"The next play, I couldn't really grab it or grasp the ball too well," Freeman said.
"It's kind of frustrating because this game I was supposed to get a lot more reps and throw 15 or 20 passes. I was looking forward to it, getting out there and getting to stretch the field with (rookie receiver) Mike Williams a little more and getting to work with (receiver Reggie Brown). Other than that, I can turn my attention to Cleveland and these first few games and start getting ready for them. There's different ways you can spin it, but I'm choosing to spin it positively."
But the eggshell fragility of the Bucs' season wasn't lost on them.
Assuming the prognosis for Freeman is correct, it still means he will play less this preseason than he did as a rookie in 2009, when he went 22-of-49 for 238 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. This preseason, he attempted only eight passes, completing six for 74 yards and a touchdown.
With Freeman's status shaky, the most important player heading into the regular season might be Josh Johnson, who went 0-4 as a starter in 2009.
Certainly, his performance Saturday night was encouraging.
Johnson, entering his third season, went 6-of-10 for 113 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown to Micheal Spurlock.
"That's what I expect Josh to do," Morris said. "When a quarterback goes down, you always have a big foot to fill with those starters. Freeman went down. … Note that the team didn't blink and continued to play."
It was a bit of redemption for Johnson, who struggled in the preseason opening loss at Miami, throwing an interception and losing a fumble when the ball slipped out of his hand.
"Now it's even more critical that every time something like this may happen to be more ready to go out and help this team," Johnson said. "That's what it's all about."
Morris said he will meet today with general manager Mark Dominik and decide whether to add a quarterback to the roster. In addition to Johnson, the Bucs have Rudy Carpenter, who was claimed off waivers from the Cowboys last season.
Carpenter played the entire second half and went 8-of-11 for 79 yards, including the winning 5-yard touchdown to Terrence Nunn with 6:15 left.
The Bucs could look for a veteran or re-sign Jevan Snead, the former Ole Miss quarterback who spent time with them during the offseason.
Even if Freeman is ready for the season opener against the Browns, he figures to be a little rusty.
"He's got to be hot," Morris said. "He's got to come out hot and be ready to go. That's why we have (offseason workouts). That's why we have minicamp. That's why you have all those things to prepare for this. And now it's here, and he's going to lose some reps on the field playing against people. But he was able to get it in the offseason.
"He'll be ready to go."
Regardless of which Josh is under center — Freeman or Johnson — the Bucs should have plenty of confidence in their receivers, especially Williams and Stroughter.
Williams had three catches for 44 yards and Stroughter caught two for 27 before both took a seat at halftime.
Spurlock, who returned the first kickoff for a touchdown in Bucs history, also proved he can be a weapon on offense. With Kansas City blitzing, he took a pass from Johnson on an out route, shook off cornerback Brandon Flowers and raced to the end zone.
Morris said Johnson will have to prepare as if Freeman won't be ready for the Browns.
"I'd like to think they all prepare as if they're going to be the starter every week," Morris said.
"Because you never know."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.