BAGSHOT, ENGLAND (AP) - Josh Freeman expects his second game at Wembley to be a lot different from his first.
The Tampa Bay quarterback made his NFL debut in London in 2009, coming on as a backup in the fourth quarter to run the clock out when the Buccaneers took their seventh straight loss in a blowout against New England.
That game now “seems ages ago,” Freeman said Wednesday.
Much has happened in two years.
This time around, Freeman may not even worry about who is staring back at him from across the line of scrimmage.
“I remember it was cool. It was a great atmosphere at Wembley,” Freeman said about his experience in 2009. “And then I remember Junior Seau being right across from me. But now I feel great, confident. I know exactly what I’m seeing, and not really seeing ghosts like you might as a rookie getting your first start. There’s really no anxiety going into it. So yeah, I’ve definitely grown.”
So have the rest of Bucs, even though they’re still a young team that remains unpredictable. They followed a 48-3 loss at San Francisco by beating New Orleans on Sunday to sit tied with the Saints for first place in the NFC South.
Tampa Bay is the first team to return to Britain since the league started playing a regular-season game here in 2007. This time, the aim isn’t to earn a first win of the season, it’s to spark a run at the playoffs.
And part of the team’s turnaround goes back to that first trip abroad, according to coach Raheem Morris.
“This was the birthplace of Josh Freeman. He went out there and got a couple of snaps,” said Morris, who was also a rookie in 2009. “(Now) Josh Freeman is our starting quarterback. So some of those questions we may have had the first time we came out here, we’ve got some of those answers.”
Indeed, Freeman has been the starter ever since.
After a bye week following that 35-7 loss against the Patriots, Freeman led Tampa Bay to an upset over the Green Bay Packers in the next game and then helped the team compile a 10-6 record in 2010.
“That first year was a very trying year, a lot of new pieces,” Freeman said. “First year for Raheem, first year for me, first year for a lot of guys. But we still have a young team, but we have a lot of confidence about what we’re doing. We feel like we can go out and win every game. That year was a rough year, but we expect to go out and win and we have our foundation set.”
If it wasn’t for the uniforms, it might have been difficult for the British fans to even recognize Tampa Bay as the same team that came over two years ago.
“They’ve got a different Bucs team (to watch),” Morris said. “And they’ve got a younger football team right now that’s coming out there ready to play. Hopefully these guys come out and play fast, hard, smart and consistent like they have been all season.”
London might seem a bit different to the Bucs as well.
After a day off Tuesday that included some sightseeing, the Bucs held their first practice Wednesday outside their luxury hotel in Bagshot, southwest of the capital.
It’s a different setup from 2009, when the team also chose to stay at home until Friday.
“Getting our players here, getting them acclimated to the city, letting them have their day off here, takes some of the angst away from coming at the end of the week,” Morris said. “It’s like a college setting, we’ve got a bunch of young guys who love being around each other, so we just wanted to have that bonding moment.”
By Elaine Donnelly
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