In the brief, occasionally wobbly career of Josh Freeman, you may consider this the most impressive comeback of his career.
After all, this time Freeman didn't just bring his team from behind.
This time, he brought his reputation with it.
On a misty Sunday afternoon a long way from home, Freeman came back from the questions and the doubts. He came back from the insults and the scorn. He came from two weeks of being scatter-armed and scatter-brained.
Mostly, Freeman came back from questionable play so hard that by the time the game ended, he looked like an answer once again.
Call him the re-chosen one.
And consider his career as promising as ever.
For two weeks it had been easy to doubt Freeman. He seemed unable to make a throw, unable to make a read, unable to sustain a convincing argument that he was indeed the Bucs' quarterback of the future. Across Tampa Bay, you could feel the early momentum Freeman had built drain away when fans discussed their rookie quarterback.
Then came the Bucs' second win, against Seattle, and along the way, Freeman earned himself a second look. After his second half led to a 24-7 victory, it was easy to remember all the good things you had noticed about Freeman in his early starts. Once again he was poised. Once again he was promising. Once again,Freeman looked like a young quarterback putting in a claim on tomorrow.
Say this for Freeman. The kid showed he can get up off the canvas. After a thoroughly uninspiring two quarters — not to mention the two miserable games that had come before them — it seemed Freeman opened up Marino-in-a-Can. After a first-half quarterback rating of 23.3, Freeman had a second-half rating of 149.1.
"He proved he's got great resiliency," said Greg Olson, the Bucs' offensive coordinator. "As a quarterback, you have to have it. You have to be very thick-skinned. You're going to be criticized your whole career. But the great ones bounce back and come back. He did that this week."
Against the Seahawks, Freeman looked like a different quarterback. He stayed calm. He didn't force the issue. He seemed to see the field better. He played like a quarterback in control of his surroundings.
Part of the reason was Freeman, of course.
Part of the reason, too, was the coaching staff.
This is the way the Bucs should have been using Freeman all along. It is one thing to expect a 21-year-old to be a player in the NFL. It is something else to expect him to be the team's best player. Before Sunday, the Bucs were simply asking too much of a rookie quarterback.
Sunday, however, Freeman threw the ball fewer times than in any of his six previous starts. The running backs ran the ball more than in any. And the defense played better. When it comes to formulas for winning, that one makes a lot of sense.
When it comes to quarterbacks, less is often more. Freeman threw only five times in the first quarter, seven in the second, three in the fourth. But he kept the chains moving, throwing for first downs on five third-down passes.
"Five is the last guy we have to worry about," Cadillac Williams said of Freeman. "Five is going to be okay. We didn't go out there and throw 30, 40, 50 times. We didn't put him in any bad situations. And the kid's confidence grew as the game went on. It's like coach (Steve) Logan said. 'You're kind of just waiting for that egg to hatch.'
"He can make every throw. He has all the talent in the world. And he wants to be great."
From the sound of it, Freeman didn't like his play the previous two weeks any more than you did. How could he?
"It was terrible," Freeman said. "I came out, and I played bad. There are no excuses for playing like I did. All I can do is try to improve. It's not something where I look back and say, 'I can't play in this league.' It's like I look back and say, 'How did I do this?' "
Over the previous two weeks, Freeman had eight interceptions, and his team failed to score a touchdown in either game. On his first throw against Seattle, he had another interception. Yet, when his coaches approached him afterward, Freeman assured them he was fine. "I got it, I got it," he said.
"I've gone back to that five-interception game (Dec. 6 against the Panthers)," Olson said. "A lot of people think he was making bad decisions all over the place. But it was his accuracy that caused him to throw four of them. Last week was the first week he really got rattled. That was his decision-making."
Ah, but that's two worrisome traits. Will they be a problem for Freeman in the long run?
"No, no," Olson said. "Those will not be an issue. He's going to be a great player."
Are you convinced yet? Probably not. Freeman is going to have to put together a lot more halves for that. He's going to have to protect the ball better. He's going to have to win a lot more games.
Still, it is easier to believe in Freeman this week than last week. That's a re-start, if nothing else.