The comeback, after all, is what Freeman has perfected in his 26-game career.
LeGarrette Blount's 4-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds left sent the Buccaneers past the stunned Minnesota Vikings 24-20 on Sunday, completing another rally guided by Tampa Bay's calm young quarterback.
"He doesn't blink," coach Raheem Morris said.
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Eight of Freeman's 14 career victories have come when the Bucs (1-1) went ahead in the fourth quarter or overtime. Given how overwhelmed they were before halftime, outgained 284 yards to 62 during the first two quarters, this might have been the most impressive.
"Arguably our worst half of football since I've been a head coach," Morris said.
After expressing frustration he wasn't more involved last week, Blount finished with 71 yards and two scores on 13 carries.
"We just came together and collectively said, 'This is not how we play football. Let's go out and do what we do best,"' Freeman said.
There was no screaming, throwing chairs, or drastic readjustments to the game plan. The Bucs simply emerged with the kind of steadiness and confidence down the stretch that the Vikings (0-2), still led by a bunch of veterans, haven't shown yet.
"We have to have that attitude that we can't be stopped," quarterback Donovan McNabb said.
Freeman found Arrelious Benn for a 25-yard touchdown pass over Cedric Griffin with 6:39 remaining to cut Minnesota's lead to three points. A 19-yard leaping catch by Dezmond Briscoe and a 15-yard late hit penalty on Jared Allen set up the score.
Freeman told Benn to watch for the ball because the Vikings were focusing on Blount.
"He just ran by him, straight up," Freeman said. "There's just nothing special about that play."
Morris said he thought his young team "blinked" last week in the 27-20 loss to Detroit, when the Lions led at the half and held on.
This time, the Bucs didn't flinch.
"If we thought we were going to lose in the second half, we would've stayed in the locker room," linebacker Quincy Black said.
Tampa Bay even overcame a couple of costly mistakes.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|If NFL games were only 30-minutes long, the Bucs would grade an F against the Vikings. With only 62 total yards of offense in the 1st half, starting slow is an understatement. But they came out of halftime, established the running game and scored 24 second-half points to beat the Vikings on the road.|
|The Vikings busted out at Mall of America Field against the Bucs, dominating the game in the 1st-half with 284 yards and a 17-0 lead. But like last week, the Vikings were slow out of halftime, were dominated by the Bucs and scored only 3 points in the second half, losing 24-20 at home.|
|By Joe Oberle|
Then an illegal shift penalty wiped out what would've been a terrific touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone by Mike Williams, and they settled for a field goal by Connor Barth to pull within 17-10.
"With the bitter taste in our mouths from last week, we had to be better," Blount said.
Adrian Peterson had 25 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the first half for the Vikings (0-2), who blew a healthy lead for the second straight week and were booed off the field when their desperation drive was stopped around midfield as the clock ran out.
"Wow. You're not supposed to give away a game like that," Peterson said.
McNabb was much better than in his Minnesota debut, finishing 18 for 30 for 228 yards and effectively using the rollout often to find open receivers in the middle of the field. But Freeman was the better quarterback when it counted most, completing 22 of 31 passes for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"I thought Josh did a wonderful job of keeping his composure, being a great leader and leading his team to a big victory," McNabb said. "When the chips were down, they were able to keep confidence in themselves. Josh did a great job leading the charge, but this is a game we should've won."
The Vikings showed better balance than the week before. But in mixing up their play calls, they might have strayed too far in the second half from Peterson, who plowed and danced through Tampa Bay's front seven for much of the afternoon. The Bucs needed several ankle tackles to bring him down in the first half, and the Vikings had touchdown drives of 90 and 75 yards.
The Vikings were flawless on defense before halftime, but their tackling was substandard again down the stretch and Freeman was able to find cracks in the coverage with better protection.
The Bucs began the go-ahead drive at their 39-yard line and got to the Vikings 16 by the two-minute warning, but coach Leslie Frazier chose not to use any of Minnesota's three timeouts - leaving only 24 seconds for the offense after Percy Harvin fumbled the kickoff and was tackled at the 10.
"I really had confidence we were going to stop them," Frazier said.
|Josh Freeman completes 22 out of 31 passes for 243 yards as he engineers a comeback win. The Bucs trailed 17-0. (Getty Images)|
|Sun. Sept. 18||Final|
|TD||Adrian Peterson, 1 Yd run (Ryan Longwell kick is good), 0:02. Drive: 12 plays, 90 yards in 6:41.|
|FG||Ryan Longwell, 22 Yd, 5:06. Drive: 14 plays, 72 yards in 7:45.|
|TD||Adrian Peterson, 9 Yd run (Ryan Longwell kick is good), 0:52. Drive: 8 plays, 75 yards in 2:47.|
|TD||LeGarrette Blount, 27 Yd run (Connor Barth kick is good), 10:59. Drive: 2 plays, 44 yards in 0:40.|
|FG||Connor Barth, 36 Yd, 0:29. Drive: 7 plays, 52 yards in 4:59.|
|FG||Ryan Longwell, 29 Yd, 9:41. Drive: 12 plays, 69 yards in 5:48.|
|TD||Arrelious Benn, 25 Yd pass from Josh Freeman (Connor Barth kick is good), 6:39. Drive: 8 plays, 80 yards in 3:02.|
|TD||LeGarrette Blount, 4 Yd run (Connor Barth kick is good), 0:31. Drive: 9 plays, 61 yards in 3:41.|
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