MINNEAPOLIS – Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers retreated to the locker room after an awful first half, still confident they could win despite a 17-0 deficit.
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.
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.
The Bucs recovered an onside kick after Blount's first touchdown, but Freeman threw off his back foot for Kellen Winslow into the end zone. Husain Abdullah returned the interception 32 yards.
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.
NOTES: The Vikings have started 0-2 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02. They started 0-4 in 2002. ... After failing to complete a pass to a tight end in the opener, McNabb connected three times with Visanthe Shiancoe and targeted TEs a total of nine times. ... The Buccaneers have won five straight games in this series, dating to 2001, when they were together in the old NFC Central division. ... Through the first half, Blount's season totals were 10 carries and 19 yards. He now has 18 rushes for 90 yards. ... Bucs LB Mason Foster had 10 tackles and a sack.