Tampa, Fla. Josh Freeman’s preseason is over, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can only hope his injured thumb doesn’t lead to another slow start when the real games begin.
The second-year quarterback out of Kansas State fractured the tip of the thumb on his throwing hand during the opening quarter of Saturday night’s 20-15 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. He will be sidelined at least until the opening week of the regular season, when the Bucs think he’ll able to practice and face Cleveland on Sept. 12.
“It’s one of those things that happens in football,” Freeman said. “It hit a helmet, or it hit something. I haven’t seen the film, but it hit something harder than my thumb.
“It’s a little sore, obviously. It’s a little minor fracture, so it’s going to be a little sore. But it’s nothing that I don’t think we can get cleared up by the first week.”
Freeman’s backups, Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter, each threw for a touchdown. Micheal Spurlock scored on a 53-yard reception in the second quarter, and Carpenter snapped a fourth-quarter tie with a five-yard throw to Terrance Nunn.
The third quarterback selected in last year’s draft behind Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, Freeman made nine starts as a rookie following Tampa Bay’s 0-7 start and won three of them. The 3-13 finish was Tampa Bay’s worst since 1991, however Freeman’s progress the second half of the season spawned hope for a brighter 2010.
“It’s a huge setback, obviously, when you lose your first quarterback,” Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. “But we’re lucky. It’s an injury that we expect him back the first week of the season, and that’s very fortunate. It could be worse.
“Other people have worse situations. When I’ve got two quarterbacks to go in there and throw for over 100 passer rating, that makes you feel a little bit better about it as well.”
One of Tampa Bay’s top offseason priorities was surrounding the 22-year-old with more playmakers. One of two receivers the club selected in the draft, fourth-rounder Mike Williams, already has moved into the starting lineup and had three receptions for 44 yards against the Chiefs.
Spurlock, brought in last year as a kick returner, finished with three catches for 75 yards.
“The team didn’t blink and continued to play,” Morris said.
Freeman appeared to hit his hand as he followed through on a pass intended for tight end John Gilmore on second-and-5 from the Chiefs 13. He walked off the field holding his thumb after throwing an incompletion on third down, with the Bucs settling for Connor Barth’s 31-yard field goal.
Freeman played two series in Tampa Bay’s preseason opener at Miami, completing all four of his passes for 53 yards and one touchdown. He was 2-of-4 for 21 yards Saturday night, including a 16-yard completion to Williams on third-and-three to set up the first points of the game.
“It’s kind of frustrating because this game I was supposed to get a lot more reps — throw between 15 and 20 passes — and I was actually looking forward to it,” the former Kansas State star said.
Johnson played the remainder of the first half, going 6-of-10 for 113 yards and the touchdown to Spurlock, who twisted out of the grasp of Kansas City’s Brandon Flowers at the Chiefs 40 and raced up the sideline to the end zone for a 10-7 lead.
Matt Cassel rebounded from an unimpressive showing in Kansas City’s exhibition opener to complete 14 of 19 passes for 125 yards and no interceptions. His six-yard TD pass to Jeremy Horne finished a 47-yard scoring drive that rookie Javier Arenas set up with a 53-yard kickoff return.
Kansas City’s Thomas Jones rushed for 29 yards on eight carries. Jackie Battle led the Chiefs with 59 yards rushing on 11 attempts.
The Chiefs also lost a player to injury. Reserve cornerback Maurice Leggett suffered a neck injury and was carted off the field late in the third quarter.