It was December 26, 2010 and things didn’t exactly look amazing in Tampa. Just one week earlier the Bucs playoff hopes had been dealt a serious blow, the Bucs were reeling from a loss to the Lions and the national media had rescinded most of the respect it had extended this young Tampa team in favor of the “fraud” label.
It was overcast and cold, just 49 degrees at kickoff for a game that most Bucs fans wouldn’t even have the opportunity to watch. The game marked the last in a season’s worth of blacked out home games, the stands were only partially filled and a Seahawks team that would later (insultingly) limp into the playoffs had travelled across the country to play the downtrodden Bucs.
If ever there were a time that youth could have reared its head and this young Bucs team could have just come apart, this was it. With the season now heavily in doubt in front of your eighth non-sell out on a crummy Tampa day. Instead, Josh Freeman used the opportunity to flash a glimmer of something the Buccaneers have never had in their long, somewhat tortured history, elite quarterback play.
Now before we get started, it’s fair to say the Bucs have had some good quarterbacks. Brad Johnson was serviceable, if unsexy, in leading the Bucs to their championship in 2002. Many other good (or even great quarterbacks) never reached that level while playing for the Bucs (Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, etc…).
But the Buccaneers have never had a franchise quarterback, an elite, upper echelon passer. In week 16, Josh Freeman played like one. He had been stellar all season, rarely making mistakes and managing to lead the team on numerous comebacks. But this was different.
Josh Freeman was surgical in his dismantling of the Seahawks that day. Aided by a 160+ yard day from rookie LeGarrette Blount, Freeman completed 21 of 26 attempts for 237 yards and five touchdowns. An unheard of day and a franchise record for the Buccaneers.
Freeman started strong, going 12 of 17 in the first half for 142 yards and 2 scores. The Bucs lead 17-7 at halftime, you really couldn’t ask for much more out of your quarterback than that in a half. At just 23 (22 at the time) Josh Freeman wasn’t satisfied though, he managed to top his strong first half with a perfect second.
While LeGarrette Blount pounded away at the Seahawks line and ground out the clock, Freeman complete nine of nine attempts for 95 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. Bringing his total to five on the day and bringing down the Seahawks 38-15.
For the game both Kellen Winslow and Mike Williams hauled in two scores and Maurice Stovall found his way back into action (after missing a good portion of the year with injuries) with a late TD reception. Throw in Blount’s career game and it was a banner day for the Buccaneers offense, but make no mistakes, Freeman was the star.
It says enough just to look at the stat-line, but his leadership was on clear display that afternoon. There’s a point in a season when a coach’s message can start to strain and that moment very well could have been after the Lions dealt the Bucs a loss in week 15. As I mentioned, it would have been easy for the Bucs to have tanked then and there, a coach can only impart his message until the team takes the field. Then it’s up to them, Freeman clearly got it in week 16 and made sure the rest of the offense was coming with him on it.
More than anything though, this game was fantastic because it gave everyone a glimpse into just how prolific this team could be. If you were lucky enough to see the game, you definitely found yourself gasping at some point in the waning moments at the giddy realization that this, this 38-15 destruction, was what the Bucs are capable of. You can’t help but get excited over that.
And this Seahawks team actually ended up being the first “quality” team the Bucs beat (a week before they got credit for beating one in the Saints). After all Seattle did win their division and knocked the defending champs out of the playoffs. Funny how that works.