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Time for Tampa Bay Buccaneers to call on quarterback Josh Freeman

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis leaps in front of wideout Michael Clayton to pick off Josh Johnson in the third quarter.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis leaps in front of wideout Michael Clayton to pick off Josh Johnson in the third quarter.

TAMPA

It is time.

Give the kid a plane ticket and a Union Jack. Give him an Underground map and a porkpie hat. Give him a Manchester United jersey, a Beatles CD and a cup of Earl Grey.

After that, give Josh Freeman the keys to the Bucs offense.

It is time.

At 0-6, what are the Bucs waiting for? At 0-6, aren't they as curious as the rest of us? At 0-6, and days away from playing New England in Olde England, isn't it time for the changing of the guard? Or better yet, the changing of the quarterback?

For months now, the Bucs have been patient, and bully for them for it. For months, they have repeated a thousand times that they would not force Freeman to play before he was ready.

After all, he is the franchise.

After all, he is the future.

At 0-6, and after another Sunday of being battered at the ball yard, isn't it finally time to get that future started? If Freeman really is the Next Big Deal around here, isn't it time the Bucs gave us a glimpse? Goodness knows, there is nothing left of today.

To be fair, it should be pointed out that when you are assigning blame for the Bucs' 28-21 loss to the Panthers, quarterback-for-now Josh Johnson should be about 27th on your list. Unless Johnson knows how to play defensive tackle — and how much worse could he be? — there wasn't much he could do about the last eight and a half minutes of the game.

That said, the Bucs need better quarterbacking than this, too. When your backup kick returner is responsible for as many touchdowns as your offense, when the opposing quarterback throws the Bucs one more touchdown pass than their own does, it is time to pull the trigger.

I know, I know. There is a nice charisma to Johnson, and his ability to pull down the ball and scramble downfield for a first down is a nice asset. But if the Bucs are going to suffer through the mistakes of a new quarterback, shouldn't it be with the guy they are counting on to be the answer? Why double the growing pains?

For instance, there was Johnson's overthrow of Sammie Stroughter in the first quarter. The Bucs were ahead 7-0, and Stroughter was wide open at the 10, and Johnson overthrew him so badly you'd think he was going to hit the pirate ship. If the Bucs scored there to take a double-digit lead, who knows how this game might have ended up.

Then there was the first play of the third quarter, when Johnson's pass was intercepted by Thomas Davis, who returned it 24 yards to set up a Panthers touchdown.

In three starts, Johnson's rating is only 58.9. Thirty-five quarterbacks entered Sunday's play with a better rating. He has only 176 yards per start; 32 quarterbacks are averaging more. In three weeks, Johnson has led his offense to only four touchdowns.

"Obviously, I didn't do enough," Johnson said. "It's never enough when you lose. I've got to see the film (today) to critique more of the individual performance, but the way I feel right now, I don't feel good at all about it."

Granted, Johnson, 23, hasn't played a lot. Because of that, it's tough to expect more from him.

From Freeman, from a No. 1 draft pick, it isn't. And that's why you change.

I'll admit this: For most of the season, I have believed the Bucs were doing the right thing by not rushing Freeman. Why force him into the lineup and allow the other team to beat the fire out of him, the way the Texans did with David Carr.

Still, the kid has to play sometime. If the Bucs were right when they drafted Freeman, it's time to show it.

All along, of course, the wink-wink date for Freeman has been Nov. 8, when the Bucs were home against Green Bay. That date made sense for a team with a conservative approach. It meant that the Bucs would come back from England with an open date and plenty of time for a final polish before pointing Freeman toward the field.

On the other hand, if the Bucs start Freeman in England, that bye week could be spent going over the things he did right and the things he didn't do as well. Wouldn't that help Freeman — and the Bucs?

Raheem Morris, the Bucs coach, was asked if he might change quarterbacks. He didn't say yes; he didn't say no.

"You always go to the tape (to tell) whether you're going to make a change at quarterback," Morris said. "Josh made some strides. He did improve a little bit. Not good enough, obviously, because he didn't get the win."

The win. At this point, a win would be good. The Bucs were bad enough Sunday to make you find the team schedule and search for possible victories. As a season goes along, they seem to be tougher to find.

For the Bucs, perhaps the answer is the quarterback in waiting. Let's find out.

It is time.

London's calling.

Time for Tampa Bay Buccaneers to call on quarterback Josh Freeman 10/18/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 19, 2009 6:16am]
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