There for a moment, he was the Comeback Kid once more.
His team was behind, and the clock was ticking, and the time for being conservative was over. Once again, just like when he was good, the eyes in the huddle turned to Josh Freeman.
Yeah, this was the way he used to look, back when his future seemed filled with smiles and promises. Freeman seemed unhurried by the moment, unfazed by the defending world champions on the other side of the ball. There in the middle of a comeback attempt, Freeman looked tall. He looked poised. Right up until it ran out, he looked like hope.
If you are talking about the bigger comeback, the one involving Freeman's career, he looked … promising.
It is a start. If the early signs of Freeman's turnaround are not convincing, they are at least encouraging. In two games, Freeman has been solid. He seems to have given himself a chance.
For a quarterback, particularly for a quarterback who spent most of last year throwing passes to the wrong team, the proof takes time. No one was ever going to completely buy into Freeman this fast. The 24-year-old has to win some big games, and he has to make some big plays, before Tampa Bay falls in love with him again.
Still, so far, there have some moments worth keeping.
For instance, go back to the fourth quarter of Sunday's 41-34 loss to the Giants, back before controversy and outrage and the angry voices. In those moments, Freeman was finally unleashed, and once again, wonderfully dangerous. After the Giants took a 34-27 lead, Freeman hit four passes to lead his team downfield, finally hitting a 41-yard pass to Mike Williams for the tying touchdown.
A few moments later, after the Giants again took the lead, Freeman gave his team another shot. If a 29-yard pass to Williams had not been overturned by replay, Freeman would have had his team on the Giants 16 with 18 seconds to play. If that play stood, Freeman would have hit 10 of his first 12 passes in the fourth quarter for 143 yards.
Alas, Freeman could not finish the job. Two plays later, he rolled right and was intercepted as he threw into a secondary crowded with defensive backs. Yet, there was something to his performance. A moment. A memory. A reminder of how good Freeman was two years ago.
You still remember, don't you? The Bucs won five games — half of their 2010 total — when Freeman led them from behind in the final quarter. There was the 33-yard touchdown pass to Micheal Spurlock with 6:56 left to beat Cleveland, the 20-yarder to Mike Williams to tie the score against Cincinnati with 1:34 left (and then a 21-yard pass to Spurlock to set up the winning field goal). There was the 1-yard touchdown pass to Cadillac Williams with 10 seconds to play against St. Louis and a 53-yarder to Arrelious Benn against Arizona with 5:13 to play to set up the winning touchdown, and the 41-yard pass to Kellen Winslow to beat Washington with 3:46 to play.
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A Tampa Bay quarterback had never been so good working against the clock. The fourth quarter became Freeman time.
That year, Freeman had 25 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Last season, however, was a huge regression. Freeman threw 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Granted, he didn't have a lot of help and, granted, his team played from behind the final 10 weeks of this season. However, it is hard to find a quarterback who had that bad a season following one that good.
Boomer Esiason, the former Bengals quarterback, tells a story about a town giving up on a quarterback. It was in 2007, and Eli Manning had a three-interception day, and Giants general manager Jerry Reese referred to Manning as "skittish.'' Manning righted himself, however, and went on to win the Super Bowl. Last season, he won it again.
"I like Josh,'' Esiason said. "He's 6-6, he's a stud athlete with a great arm and a good head on his shoulders. I think under a steady head coach like (Greg) Schiano, he'll be just fine. I would tell you this. He's in a much better place than he was this time last year.''
Probably, you prefer to wait and see when it comes to Freeman. That's fair.
That said, the first two weeks suggest there is still something there. Freeman didn't throw an interception against the Panthers. He had the nice fourth quarter against the Giants.
What's next? We'll see. We'll ponder. Eventually, we will judge.
If he keeps making strides, there will be a lot of fourth quarters ahead of Freeman.
Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.