1:00 PM ET, October 23, 2011
Wembley Stadium, London
When he plays again at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, Freeman will be leading the first-place Buccaneers against a Chicago Bears team that's showing some signs of internal strife.
After drafting Freeman in the first round in 2009, Tampa Bay's initial plan was to let him sit and learn for the entire season. An 0-7 start changed those plans and Freeman made his debut in the last of those losses, a 35-7 drubbing to New England in London.
He led the eventual 3-13 Buccaneers to a win over Green Bay in his first NFL start two weeks later, and nearly got them into the playoffs last season. Tampa Bay has built on that 10-6 finish, winning four of its past five games.
"That first year was a very trying year, a lot of new pieces," Freeman said. "First year for (coach Raheem Morris), 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."
Freeman passed for a season-high 303 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-20 win over New Orleans last Sunday. Tampa Bay (4-2) bounced back from a 48-3 defeat in San Francisco to move into a first-place tie in the NFC South with the Saints.
"We're streaky, I guess. We're like John Starks. We come out hot some days, and some days we're not," Morris said. "But we are on fire and back in. We got the hop-step we've been missing the last couple of weeks, and that's what we've got to be."
The Bears (3-3) seemed to get some life back after a dominant 39-10 victory over Minnesota on Sunday night, but Lance Briggs told a local television station that lingering problems between players and management are affecting morale.
"I think there's a big transition going on right now," the veteran linebacker said. "The players and the management, they're not seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of different issues and a lot of player situations. I don't know where it's going to go or how it's going to pan out.
"I think it takes away from wanting to just go out on the football field and just play."
Briggs lobbied for a new contract before this season, running back Matt Forte also is pushing for a new deal and safety Chris Harris requested a trade after being benched Sunday. Additionally, a microphone caught quarterback Jay Cutler directing a profanity toward offensive coordinator Mike Martz during last Sunday's win.
"Things happen. I'm not going to make a big deal of it. It's not a big deal. We're all on the same team," said Cutler, who said he didn't regret what happened.
Cutler will try to add to his streak of 74 passes without an interception. He's been sacked 19 times -- second-most in the NFL -- but only once last Sunday as he threw for 267 yards and two TDs.
The Tampa Bay defense has no sacks in the past two games but did intercept three of Drew Brees' passes last Sunday.
The Bucs also will be closely watching Devin Hester, who caught a 48-yard touchdown pass against Minnesota and totaled 91 yards receiving -- third-most in his career. He also brought back a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, extending his NFL record for combined kick returns for TDs to 16.
A rib injury forced Hester to miss the Bears' last matchup with Tampa Bay, a 27-24 overtime loss in Chicago in 2008.
Forte had 89 yards rushing in that defeat and has 408 over the last three games while averaging 6.4 per carry.
Earnest Graham seems likely to get the bulk of the carries for Tampa Bay on Sunday, as leading rusher LeGarrette Blount won't play. Blount took a hit on his left knee in Week 5 and missed the Saints game, and Graham did well in his place with 109 yards on 17 attempts.
While Blount is out, the Bucs are hopeful defensive lineman Gerald McCoy can return from an ankle injury.
The Bucs are the first team to return to London for a regular-season game since the league began playing there annually in 2007. Chicago's only game in England was a 1986 preseason matchup with Dallas.
Bears-Buccaneers: 10 observations
After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Bears-Buccaneers matchup.
1. Bears need to get Matt Forte on track: Forte is arguably the most complete back in the league, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. The Bears showed great balance in their Week 6 offensive approach, building the game plan around Forte. Look for offensive coordinator Mike Martz to continue to be creative with screens, draws, power runs and other formations to get the ball to the Bears' featured back.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|Avg Points Allowed||21.4||24.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||CHI|
|Rush Yds Allowed||CHI|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Chicago leads 5-3|
|Sep 21, 2008||CHI 24, TB 27|
|Dec 17, 2006||CHI 34, TB 31|
|Nov 27, 2005||CHI 13, @TB 10|
|Oct 24, 2004||CHI 7, @TB 19|
|Dec 29, 2002||CHI 0, TB 15|
|Dec 16, 2001||CHI 27, TB 3|
|Nov 18, 2001||CHI 27, @TB 24|
ESPN Stats & Information