Cadillac Williams' breakaway touchdown run was set up by his nine yards on the previous two carries
It was the 71-yard breakaway that got Cadillac Williams into all the Sunday night highlight packages, but in some ways it might have been the rookie's third most impressive run of the drive.
The three-play drive.
Obviously, Williams' 27th carry, the long touchdown, was his most important run of the night. Not only did it gain the first down the Bucs needed to run out the clock, but it erased any lingering chance the opposing Vikings had of coming back by putting seven more points on the board. It also showed off the top-end speed and gap-hitting explosiveness Head Coach Jon Gruden has so long coveted in his backfield.
But it might have never happened if not for Williams' two runs on first and second down.
Thanks to Brian Kelly's interception at the six and return to the 20, the Bucs had possession and a four-point lead with 1:45 to play in the Metrodome on Sunday. However, the Vikings still had two timeouts, which they would obviously use after Tampa Bay's first two plays, assuming a first down wasn't made. That means the Bucs needed to move the sticks at least once to be able to run out the clock without giving the ball back.
There were just under 64,000 screaming fans in the Metrodome. Add a few thousand for players, coaches, media and stadium staff, and you had 67,000 people who knew Williams was about to carry the ball on first, second and third down. Few coaches would risk a pass in this situation, not wanting to save the opposition a timeout with an incompletion or increase the chances of a turnover.
So Minnesota was loading up the box and Williams was headed directly into it.
On his first carry, the rookie ran towards left tackle, then cut hard upfield, put his head down and plowed for six yards. On second down, he did almost the same thing to the right, this time bulling for three yards. Thus, third-and-one. Minnesota knew the Bucs would run in that situation, and they brought a full-speed-ahead run blitz at the line. When Williams made them miss, picking the right hole at the right moment, he was suddenly behind the entire Viking defense, and no one was going to catch him.
Would that have happened on third-and-five? Not likely. The Vikings could have played it more straightforward. Would it have happened on third-and-nine? Doubtful, and here the Bucs might have tried to pass, despite the risks. But Gruden insists that Williams gets stronger as the game goes along, and maybe the Viking defense was getting winded in the game's 59th minute, and the result was one of the Bucs' most successful do-or-die grind-it-outs in a long time.
"I liked the two runs that set us up at a third-and-one," said Gruden. "We hammered the ball, left and right, off tackle behind [extra lineman Todd] Steussie both times. We went to an extra offensive lineman in that situation, and then on the third down play we used a counter scheme, with a zone block play and G Dan Buenning made a great finish on the second level. Todd Steussie made a super block at the point of attack. Like I said, if you are going to full blitz and you don't get there, there's a lot of green grass, and (Williams) is capable of finishing plays and he did that. On his 27th carry, to go 71 yards, that's quite a feat."
Much has been made of Williams' rookie move, tossing the ball into the stands to a Vikings fan after his first NFL touchdown (he got it back). A few minutes later in the locker room, however, he pulled a vet move, making sure to credit the offensive line for his 146 yards, particularly praising the hole he saw on third-and-one. While it was the right thing to say, it was also true, and encouraging for a team that has been searching for a winning combination up front for the last three years. With John Wade back at center after a serious knee injury last year, Kenyatta Walker holding down right tackle and a trio of young players – right guard Sean Mahan, left guard Dan Buenning and left tackle Anthony Davis – filling out the line, they might have found one.
The results were good for at least one afternoon.
"I thought those guys battled and did some good things," said Gruden. "Minnesota has a very good front. They've added a very good nose tackle [Pat Williams] from Buffalo. We have a lot of respect for them. We handled the noise, at times, pretty good. I thought we had some careless errors, a couple of penalties, particularly in the second half. But the offensive line deserve a lot of credit."
Williams does, too. Had he not broken free on that last drive, he would have finished with workmanlike numbers, say 80 yards on 28 carries. Then we'd be telling you how much more impressive the performance was than the final numbers indicated. The Vikings' front played well most of the night, and there were several sweeps right and left that failed to turn into anything for Williams. Still, more often than not Williams was able to put his shoulder down and at least pick up a useful gain.
Early on, Gruden consistently sent Williams wide, perhaps conceding that the Vikings' tackle combination of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams was too stout to challenge repeatedly. However, all of that outside work helped set up the change of pace late when Gruden sent Williams right up the gut in the closing minutes. It worked three times in a row, and it hit big on the third carry, or the 27th in Cadillac's case. Other than two kneel-downs by quarterback Brian Griese, a goal-line run by Mike Alstott and an end-around by receiver Joey Galloway, Williams handled the ball on every Buccaneer running play.
"That's one of the reasons we keep giving the ball to the same guy, because we think he is special and it's just a matter of time before he finds a way to get through there," said Gruden. He made a lot of good, solid runs. We did have some zeros and plus-ones on the perimeter. But I think our perimeter eight-and-nine hole running game opened up our inside game, which was very good yesterday.
"As long as Carnell feels good, he's going. He's the front running back here, and no offense to anyone else, he's a guy that we are going to feature."
Sunday's win over the Vikings came two days shy of the eight-year anniversary of the Bucs' last victory in the Metrodome. In 1997, the Bucs beat the Vikings, 28-14, on the strength of Warrick Dunn's 106-yard rushing effort, which included a 52-yard touchdown run. Before Sunday's game, Gruden told Williams of that effort and said to his prized rookie, "You have to do the same thing for me."
Williams did just that. Now Gruden wants to see him sustain that type of success, as Dunn did as a rookie.
"He's going to have to prove that he can continue to do it week in and week out," said Gruden. "We are certainly going to do everything we can to help him. He's a guy that will see a lot of carries."