The "creamsicle" jerseys of the Bucs' gloomy past were transformed a an emblem of hope for a rebuilding franchise, led by rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.
Freeman only improved as the game wore on and finished with 205 yards passing, three touchdowns and just one interception. The rookie threw second-half TD passes to Kellen Winslow and Stroughter, a seventh-round draft pick who was wide open in the right corner of the end zone with 4:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.
I felt really relaxed," said Freeman, the 17th pick in the draft and the third quarterback taken behind the Lions' Matthew Stafford and Jets' Mark Sanchez. Both have had up-and-down starts, as will Freeman.
"I didn't get too high or two low," the 21-year-old Bucs number five said. "I can't say I did anything spectacular. I just played within myself, and when we had opportunities I took them."
Freeman became just the third rookie quarterback in franchise history to win his starting debut, joining former Bucs Shaun King and Steve Young. King helped the Bucs defeat Minnesota, 24-17, at Raymond James Stadium on December 6, 1999 and Young led Tampa Bay to a 19-16 overtime win over Detroit at Tampa Stadium on November 24, 1985.
“His age really doesn’t matter at this point,” said Head Coach Raheem Morris. “He’s got to be a seven-year vet and lead us where we need to go. It was what we thought he was. That’s why we brought him in here to lead this franchise."
But Freeman is also the youngest player ever to start a game at quarterback for the Buccaneers, and hence the youngest starting QB ever to win a game for the team, as he has not yet turned 22. The rookie from K-State was 21 years and 299 days old when he took that opening-game snap from Jeff Faine.
"The guy was very poised - unreal, like, wow," Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams said after the 38-28 victory against Green Bay. "That's the hardest position to play in football, man. For that guy to come in and do the job he did, unbelievable."
"He played with no fear," said Doug Williams, current Bucs executive and quarterback of that '79 team. "He kept his eyes down-field the whole time. He made plays."
“We had guys around him, we were doing some things,” Packers linebacker Nick Barnett said. “He kind of got out of the pocket and scrambled a little bit. He’s a tough guy. With the new rules you can’t knock his feet out, you have to tackle him a certain way.
“But we’ve got to make that play. . . . Personally, I think you can only take it so far running the ball as a quarterback, but this game he was able to execute and make it happen.”
"It's a sign of things to come," backup quarterback Byron Leftwich said. "Here's a kid who can play the game of football.
"He had nothing to lose," Leftwich said. "His strength is going out there and slinging the damn ball. I wanted to make sure he understood that, to go out there and throw it the way he can. Just make the plays that he can make."
Raheem Morris concluded, "I’m sure everyone could feel his poise. You know when he goes out there that you’ve got the ability to win.“But we still have to be patient. That’s one
game. That’s a good start.”
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