Freeman looks sharp in Bucs' preseason opener
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Raheem Morris stood at the podium deep inside Arrowhead Stadium, looked straight into the camera and let a slight smile creep across his face.
The third-year head coach was asked whether he could find something wrong with the performance that his Tampa Bay Buccaneers put in during their preseason opener Friday night, a 25-0 blitzing on the road against the defending AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Morris resigned himself to the fact he couldn't, at least not yet.
"But I got to watch the tape," he added. "I'll find something."
Better watch it in slow motion.
Josh Freeman put points on the board three of the four series he played, finishing 9 of 13 for 73 yards with a touchdown rushing. Backup quarterback Josh Johnson was just as efficient, going 7 of 12 for 108 yards and a touchdown while also running for 57 yards.
The Tampa Bay offense piled up 353 yards, while a young and rapidly improving defense held the explosive Kansas City offense to just 137 — 86 on the ground and 51 through the air.
"It's our first chance, you know?" said veteran Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber. "You get two weeks of training camp, you really don't know what you got, so this is a good first game."
It figured to be a sloppy game after the NFL lockout wiped away the offseason. Teams have only been together for about a dozen practices, and veteran free agents couldn't even join their teammates until last Thursday because of new language in the collective bargaining agreement.
Kansas City had barely worked out in pads, and coach Todd Haley decided not to scrimmage during camp, wary that too much hitting too early might result in unnecessary injuries.
It wasn't much surprise the Chiefs looked unprepared.
Quinten Lawrence made a poor decision to bring the opening kickoff out of the endzone, getting wrestled down at the 8. The Chiefs went three-and-out on their first possession, fumbled on their next two, and watched backup quarterback Tyler Palko get sacked for a safety on another.
"Turning the ball over was a problem, not protecting the quarterback's a problem. We've got a lot of work to do," Haley said. "We knew we had a lot of work to do coming into this game."
Freeman needed only two plays to turn the first fumble into a touchdown, then led Tampa Bay on an eight-play drive that Connor Barth capped with a 25-yard field goal. Barth added another field goal later in the half before Palko's safety made it 15-0 late in the second quarter.
Things didn't improve for Kansas City in the second half.
Tampa Bay marched right down field against the Chiefs' backups, putting together a nine-play, 55-yard drive that resulted in a 3-yard pass from Josh Johnson to Michael Spurlock and a 22-0 lead.
Backup kicker Jacob Rogers added a 46-yard field goal early in the fourth.
Freeman is trying to build on a breakout season in which he threw for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns. The tall, strong-armed quarterback has looked sharp all camp, and he certainly carried the momentum right into his first preseason game. Freeman checked off when warranted, eluded a feeble Kansas City pass rush when necessary, and deftly managed the offense when he was in the game.
Morris planned to play his starters about 20 plays, so Freeman was done early in the second quarter. Johnson took over and kept the offense moving down field.
"They throw a bad ball, they're down on themselves," said backup receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who caught four passes for 60 yards from the two quarterbacks. "But they rarely make bad mistakes."
That sure wasn't the case for Kansas City.
Not that the starters had much chance.
Cassel didn't throw a pass. Running back Jamaal Charles didn't have a carry. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe didn't make a catch — all for the most part by design.
Defensive end Tamba Hali, who signed to a five-year, $60 million deal in training camp, looked awfully good standing on the sideline. Receiver Steve Breaston, cornerback Brandon Flowers, defensive end Glenn Dorsey, tight end Tony Moeaki and linebacker Derrick Johnson also didn't play.
Those who did left Haley wanting more.
"I don't think you ever see that coming," Haley said. "You don't want to do that, especially on your home turf. But that being said, that's the first one, not the last one. What's important is that our guys recognized that they've got a lot of work ahead of them and a short time to do it."
Notes: The Chiefs' second fumble, by RB Jackie Battle, came after officials initially ruled him down. Morris challenged and the call was overturned. ... Among those who didn't play for Tampa Bay were WR Arrelious Benn, DT Gerald McCoy, TE Kellen Winslow and CB Aqib Talib.