Freeman comes alive

GREEN BAY – What a difference a season makes.<p> Last year at this time, Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman was at home watching the playoffs on TV. He didn't even play in Green Bay's last game, a 17-14 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after being suspended by head coach Mike Sherman.<p>

Since then, the seven-year veteran has gone from malcontent to model citizen. Instead of griping about not getting the ball, Freeman has quietly gone about his business. He didn't have the best season his career, but it was certainly better than 2000.

"I really can't compare last year to now," he said. "I finished strong. I did everything the coaches asked me to do. They asked me to block the safety, I did. They asked me to return punts, I did that. They asked me run the 2-yard routes, I did."

Freeman finished the regular season with 52 catches for 818 yards and six touchdowns. The 52 receptions were his fewest since his rookie season, when he had eight. In 2000 he had 62 catches for 912 yards and nine scores. But gone this season is the complaining and complacency.

"I have played under control," Freeman said. "Last year, if I didn't get involved early, like before halftime, I felt like I went in the tanks. This year I'm staying composed. And that's helping me not get in the tanks."

Green Bay will need a primed and ready Freeman, who runs razor-sharp routes and will catch passes across the middle in heavy traffic, if the Packers want to beat the St. Louis Rams Sunday in an NFC divisional playoff battle at St. Louis.

Freeman always has been strong in the postseason – he set the Super Bowl record for longest reception - 81 yards - in 1997. He has caught 40 passes for 684 yards and scored seven touchdowns in 11 career playoff games. He set a Green Bay record for career playoff yardage last Sunday by catching six passes for 84 yards in a 25-15 win against the San Francisco 49ers.

"This is the playoffs," Freeman said. "When the kickoff comes, the score will be 0-0, and it will be anyone's ballgame."

Freeman's on-field performance isn't the only aspect of his game back in fine form. In his seven season in Green Bay, the receiver perfected the "us vs. them" mentality. Sometimes that meant circling the wagons for the team, but in rockier times, that circle seemed to include only Freeman himself.

Now, 'Free' is back to backing his team with his hands and his mouth. After last week's playoff win over the San Francisco 49ers, Freeman restated his belief in this year's Packers.

"Everyone talked about (the 49ers') offense and their weapons," Freeman said. "We knew we could get the job done. We believed in ourselves. Brett did a great job and got us the ball and we did what we had to do. We had confidence in ourselves."

And as a sign that all is well in Packerland, some of Freeman's post-game banter was accompanied by Favre joining in with some good-natured mugging for the camera while Freeman attempted to keep a straight face.

Packer Report Top Stories