Rookie RB Cadillac Williams now has 276 yards and two 100-yard efforts in as many games in the NFL
There were, as advertised, two rugged defenses on the field Sunday as the Buffalo Bills visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Raymond James Stadium. Head-to-head, that might have been an even matchup. The Buccaneers, however, had the difference-maker.
That would be, of course, Cadillac Williams.
En route to a 19-3 victory on Sunday, and a 2-0 start to the season, the Buccaneers built a 16-3 lead on Williams' second career touchdown with five minutes left in the third quarter. At that point in the game, the rookie back had 98 rushing yards and Buffalo's offense, led by virtual rookie J.P. Losman, had 54 yards overall.
Obviously, Williams wasn't the one harassing Losman into 14-of-32 passing for 113 yards, though his clock-draining runs between the tackles certainly kept Buffalo and talented RB Willis McGahee off the field. No, the job of stopping Losman and crew went to a spirited Buccaneer defense that is beginning to look like the one that keyed the team's run to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII three years ago.
"That was a big win for our team against a heck of a team," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "They had won eight or nine out of their last 11. It was a great win. There were too many penalties, particularly in the kicking game, but to play that defense and not to give up the ball is quite an accomplishment. I'm very proud of our offense, very proud of our defense and very proud of our team."
Pick a defensive star if you will – Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles or Greg Spires would be respectable choices – but this was the epitome of a team effort. Though Barber, Brooks and Kelly each missed on game-turning interception chances on three of Losman's first five passes, the Bucs managed to shut down just about everything Losman hoped to do.
In fact, Buffalo had only 77 yards of total offense before its final drive against a prevent Buccaneer defense that was more concerned with running out the clock. That march got down to the Bucs' nine-yard line but didn't crack the end zone, as LB Derrick Brooks knocked away Losman's final, fourth-down pass before it could get to WR Eric Moulds in the back of the end zone. Thus, the Bucs have still not allowed an offensive touchdown this season, after shutting down Minnesota's high-powered attack last weekend.
When dangerous back Willis McGahee found absolutely nowhere to run – 34 yards on 13 carries – Losman found himself in charge of moving the Bills against Tampa Bay's fired-up D, and the talented but green passer is not yet up to the task. Though he was not picked off, he also didn't complete a pass over 11 yards until the game's closing minutes against that purposely sagging defense..
Overall, Buffalo's offense gained 145 yards and eight first downs, 68 of those yards and half of those first downs coming on that final drive. The Bills didn't convert a third down until the third quarter, and they finished with four-of-14 conversions overall. A look at how each of Buffalo's 10 possessions fared paints an intimidating picture: three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, three plays and a safety, 31-yard field goal drive, three-and-out, 26-yard drive, three-and-out, 63-yard drive.
Perhaps most amazingly, the Bucs did all of this without forcing a turnover. It was a simple matter of read-and-react; the Bucs seemed to know what was coming and definitely knew how to stop it. Barber finished the game with six tackles, and probably five of them came on run blitzes where he shot around the end of the line behind the play and caught McGahee from behind. Had the Bucs nipped Buffalo's last drive earlier, it could have surpassed the team record of 80 yards allowed in a game (vs. Kansas City, 12/16/79). Even with those final meaningless yards, it stands as the eighth-best defensive performance in franchise history, and their best since the 2003 season.
Once Tampa Bay had built its lead to 16 points, the Bucs rested Cadillac, though the running game continued to prosper behind Michael Pittman 46 yards) and Mike Alstott 19 yards). Obviously, that's a very impressive turn of events for Tampa Bay's rebuilt offensive line, which is starting rookie Dan Buenning at left guard, second-year man Anthony Davis at left tackle and third-year lineman Sean Mahan at right guard.
Still, it was Williams who got the Bucs moving early, and he seemed no worse for the wear after his 27-carry, 148-yard debut on Minnesota's turf last week, at least until a sprained left foot in the second quarter put him on the sideline. This time running primarily between the tackles rather than on stretch plays, Williams was the engine in the Bucs' offense once again. His 23-yard run in the second quarter ignited the game's first touchdown drive and was a good example of his efforts overall. Time and time again, Williams made one cut near the line of scrimmage to make a defender miss, then shot straight upfield for as much as he could get. On most occasions, that was at least four yards, if not eight or more. By halftime, he had 71 yards on 15 carries.
From there, it was just a short distance to his second 100-yard rushing effort in as many NFL games. No previous Buccaneer rookie had ever done that, and the last Buc back of any kind to do it was James Wilder to open the 1985 campaign. In fact, the last Tampa Bay runner to have consecutive 100-yard games at any point in the season was Michael Pittman last year (10/24 and 11/7/04) and that was with a bye week in between.
The Bucs got a bit of a scare when Williams had to come out of the game after the last of his seven carries on that TD drive. He was diagnosed with a sprained left foot and considered questionable to return. However, he was back on the field for the first play of Tampa Bay's second drive of the third quarter, and he immediately ripped off a 19-yard run on that very play. He finished the drive just as impressively, running for a three-yard touchdown on third-and-goal to complete an 80-yard drive and put the Bucs up 16-3 with five minutes left in the third quarter. On the play, Williams surged forward as he fell and just extended the ball over the goal line before his leg hit the ground, a chain of events confirmed after Buffalo's unsuccessful replay challenge.
The Bucs are hopeful that his injury won't limit him in weeks to come.
"He has a strained arch," said Gruden. "I don't know the degree of the injury. Obviously, his health has a lot to do with where we are."
Even with a smaller dose of Williams in the second half, the Bucs still had an emerging young star to go to. WR Michael Clayton beat Pro Bowl CB Nate Clements on a deep post on third-and-five midway through the third quarter and caught a perfect dart from QB Brian Griese, taking the ball down to Buffalo's six. Williams scored moments later on an impressive, three-yard run on third down, just extending the ball over the goal line. That fact was confirmed by replay after Buffalo challenged the call. Clayton, the 80-catch breakthrough rookie of 2004, finished the game with six catches for 84 yards.
If this was going to be a slugfest between two rugged defenses, the Bucs were determined to get in the first few body blows. Buffalo's first possession started on Tampa Bay's side of the field thanks to a late hit by S Jermaine Phillips on the opening kickoff. The Bills never got close to scoring, though, thanks to a dominant three-and-out.
On first down, Barber came around the end of the line on a run blitz and caught RB Willis McGahee after a gain of just one. On second down, Brooks anticipated a short pass to TE Ryan Neufeld, jumped it and nearly intercepted a hard J.P. Losman throw with nothing but open grass in front of him. Brooks was furious over not making the tough catch, but the Bucs still stopped Buffalo on third down with a big blitz and a fine open-field tackle by S Will Allen.
The Bucs started fast on offense, too, though they couldn't sustain their first drive. A sharp eight-yard run by Williams and a 10-yard reception by Pittman helped get the ball to midfield, allowing the Bucs to punt it down to Buffalo's five-yard line.
Or so it seemed for a moment. Unfortunately, the Bucs' punting unit committed three straight penalties and when the dust had settled the ball was all the way out to Buffalo's 27. Exchanges such as these kept the game scoreless until the second quarter.
After forcing four straight three-and-outs, the Bucs' defense got the first score on a safety when LB Shelton Quarles forced QB J.P. Losman out of the end zone. The play was set up by a Josh Bidwell punt that CB Juran Bolden caught on the fly at Buffalo's one. The Bucs' offense got the ball back after the safety and immediately drove 67 yards on 11 plays for the game's first touchdown and a 9-0 lead. Alstott ran the last yard for a touchdown, bashing over left tackle and pushing through one final tackler, but it was Williams who did most of the damage on the drive. Williams carried the ball seven times for 46 yards, starting the march off with a 23-yard run.
However, those two scores also seemed to wake up Buffalo's offense for a few plays at least, after it got the ball at their own 47 after Terrence McGee's 43-yard kickoff return, then recorded their initial first-down of the game two plays later. The drive still only covered 31 yards on six plays but it put K Ryan Lindell in position for a 40-yard field goal, cutting the Bucs' lead to 9-3.
Quarles led the Bucs' defense with six tackles and a sack, while Brooks made three stops and broke up two passes. DE Simeon Rice recorded his second sack in as many games.
The Bucs put their perfect record on the line next Sunday in Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers.
Game Notes: Tampa Bay wore the uniform combination of white pants and white jersey for just the fifth time since the team adopted new colors and logos in 1997. The last time was the season opener of 2002, a 26-20 overtime loss to New Orleans. Overall, the Bucs are now 3-2 in their white-on-white unis, including 2-1 at home. … The Buccaneers continue to own the all-time series against Buffalo. The two teams have now met eight times, and the Bucs are 6-2 in those games, marking their best winning percentage (.750) against any team they've played more than twice. Strangely, all eight games of the series have been played in Tampa. … The Bucs are off to their first 2-0 start since the 2000 season and their sixth overall. The Bucs also started 2-0 in 1979, 1980, 1992 and 1997. They made the playoffs in three of those five seasons: 1979, 1997 and 2000. … Second-year S Will Allen made his first career start, opening the game at free safety in place of Dexter Jackson. The Bucs also started in their nickel package to counteract Buffalo's three-receiver set, meaning CB Juran Bolden was in for SLB Ryan Nece. On offense, rookie TE Alex Smith made his second straight start, replacing FB Mike Alstott when the team started in a two-TE set. … LB Shelton Quarles' safety in the second quarter was the first safety for the Buccaneers since 1993. The last one occurred against the New York Giants on 11/24/03, when the Giants lost a fumble out of the end zone and the safety was credited to the Bucs as a team. It was only the ninth safety in team history. … Though he has owned Tampa Bay's all-time touchdowns record for some time now, Alstott still reached a milestone on Sunday. His second-quarter touchdown run was the 50th of his career. He also has 12 TD receptions for a total of 62 overall … Though he surely doesn't mind, QB Brian Griese's touchdown streak came to an end. Coming into Sunday's game, Griese had thrown at least one TD pass in 12 straight games, all of the ones in which he has played as a Buccaneer.
Inactives: The Buccaneers designated eight game day inactives 90 minutes before kickoff. They were CB Torrie Cox, S Donte Nicholson, T Chris Colmer, G Matt Stinchcomb, WR Paris Warren, WR J.R. Russell, DT Jon Bradley and designated third quarterback Luke McCown.
The Bills eight inactives were WR Roscoe Parrish, WR George Wilson, RB Lionel Gates, S Jim Leonhard, OL Justin Geisinger, TE Tim Euhus, DT Lauvale Sape and designated third quarterback Shane Matthews.
Injuries: The Buccaneers reported no injuries other than Williams' sprained foot.