TAMPA, Fla. -- By the time Tampa Bay closed out an exhibition victory over Kansas City, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman had regained his composure and was talking positively about the thumb injury that will sideline him until at least the opening week of the regular season.
The second-year pro feels fortunate to have only broken the tip of the thumb on his throwing hand and doesn't think it will hinder him from being ready to play when the Bucs face the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 12.
"I was just hoping it was jammed, but it was a little different pain than just being jammed," said Freeman, who was hurt when his right hand struck the helmet of a pass rusher during the first quarter of Saturday night's 20-15 win over the Chiefs.
"When I saw the X-ray and heard the word fracture, I was kind of freaking out. They told me: 'Hey, just take care of it, and it should just be a couple of weeks.' When I heard that, it made me feel a lot better."
The Bucs, too.
Freeman was the third quarterback selected in the 2009 draft behind Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez. He went 3-6 in nine starts as a rookie, and Tampa Bay -- coming off its worst finish since 1991 -- doesn't have an experienced veteran playing behind the 6-foot-6, 248-pound passer.
Third-year pro Josh Johnson appeared in six games and lost all four of his starts last season. Second-year backup Rudy Carpenter, who has yet to play in an NFL regular-season game, spent 11 weeks on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad before the Bucs signed him to the active roster last November.
Although coach Raheem Morris said he was encouraged by the way each played in throwing a touchdown pass after Freeman departed Saturday night, the reality is if Freeman doesn't recover as quickly as expected, the Bucs could be in the market for experienced help.
"We're very fortunate. It could have been worse," Morris said, adding that he and general manager Mark Dominik likely would have some discussions while also trying to get a better feel for exactly when Freeman might be able to practice again.
Initial expectations are for the week of the season opener against the Browns.
Even though he's played just three series and thrown eight passes this preseason, Freeman is confident he won't be rusty when he returns.
"I'll be back, ready to go. It's not like I'm just going to be sitting doing nothing. I'll still be working footwork drills, still running, still getting the mental part of the game," the 22-year-old said. "And I've still got a young arm, so I should be able to come out and wing it."
Freeman was injured on Tampa Bay's first offensive possession. He returned to the sideline with his right thumb immobilized with a splint, and the rest of his hand was bandaged, too.
As difficult as it might have been, the former Kansas State star didn't let on to teammates that there might be reason for concern.
"I could see guys looking at me and seeing how I was reacting on the sideline. Obviously, you can't act like everything is lost, because it's not," Freeman said. "It's a minor setback. I'm looking forward to attacking this thing, and getting it right, and getting ready for Week 1."