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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Staying Power

Perhaps the most impressive thing about rookie RB Cadillac Williams’ performance so far – and that’s a loaded statement – is his late-game dominance


RB Cadillac Williams says that success in the fourth quarter comes down to who wants it more

Ms. Sherry Williams, do we have a stat for you.

Ms. Williams is the mother of one Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, which means she might one day get a call from the Campbell's Soup people, if Mrs. McNabb ever decides to hang up her ladle. Her son's fame is growing almost as rapidly as his record-breaking numbers.

Williams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' prized rookie, has exploded onto the NFL scene even faster than he can keep up with. He says the attention and the falling records haven't really sunk in with him yet, that it's his mother who is keeping track of every new milestone achieved and every word written about it.

"She calls me every hour to tell me, 'They're saying this on ESPN, they're talking about this, they're talking about that,'" Williams drawled, a shy smile on his face. "She's the one keeping up with all the clippings and really enjoying it."

So Ms. Williams surely already knows that Cadillac has more rushing yards (434) through the first three games of a career than any player in NFL history. She knows that he's the first NFL back in the league's 86 years to begin his season with three 100-yard rushing games, let alone three 125-yard rushing games. She knows that her son is the league's leading rusher, by a 77-yard margin, and that he's averaging a robust 4.9 yards per tote.

Heck, you probably know all of that, too. But like we said, we've got a new set of numbers for Caddy's mom. Here they are: 24-190-7.9.

Those are Williams' numbers through three games in the fourth quarter only. In three game-ending quarters – three periods that sealed Buccaneer victories – Williams is averaging nearly eight yards a pop and is getting the ball an average of eight times each in those 15-minute segments.

The fourth period has actually been his most productive one. Here are Williams' quarter-by-quarter numbers through three games:

First Quarter26632.4
Second Quarter231145.0
Third Quarter15674.5
Fourth Quarter241907.9

It's easy to see how Williams could end up with 37 carries at the end of a very close game. In the early going, even when the holes aren't opening up for the rookie back, the Bucs are proving they are committed to the running game, something Head Coach Jon Gruden has wanted to do since he arrived in Tampa in 2002.

In the second quarter, when the Bucs have put together most of their scoring drives this year, Williams has begun to break through, sprinkling in some big gains among his four and five-yard runs to power the team downfield. In the third quarter, his carries have been somewhat limited, as the Bucs have had a tendency to sabotage their own possessions in that period. And in the fourth quarter, with the Bucs trying to hold onto a lead and run out the clock, Williams has been absolutely masterful. That factor, his ability to pound for yards, to fight to move the chains when everyone in the park knows he's getting the handoff, may be the single most important factor in the Bucs' 3-0 start.

"I definitely feel like as the game goes on I do get a lot stronger, especially in the fourth quarter," said Williams. "That's when it all comes down to who wants it. Everybody's tired, everybody's sore, everybody's beat up, so that's when I feel like I can really do my damage."

After a few questions about the red-hot rookie on Monday morning, Gruden correctly made a point of sharing the praise for the Bucs' strong start on offense. As Williams himself has noted, he has been getting good blocking up front from an aggressive and determined offensive line. Receivers are blocking well on the edges and downfield, the tight ends are contributing heavily and quarterback Brian Griese is running a sharp attack.

But Williams is clearly something special, and something the Bucs haven't had in a long time, if ever. Sunday's win in Green Bay wasn't about Williams for three quarters. He was getting his carries and contributing chunks of yardage, but Joey Galloway had scored both of the Bucs' touchdown and the rest of the tale would be written by how well the defense held off Brett Favre.

Somehow, by the end of the game, everybody was talking about Williams again. That's what happens when there are three minutes left in the game, all 75,000 people in the joint know you're getting the ball and you still manage to break tackles, avoid big hits, hold onto the ball and rumble through the defense for a game-clinching, 26-yard run.

"I think great running backs have a tendency to run by instinct, run by feel," said Gruden. "They see the same blocking pattern three or four times sometimes, and they anticipate what you are going to do the next time. There's some of that, and then some of that is just sheer determination, guts, and talent. He is a phenomenal competitor and he is blessed with great talent. Not to take anything away from anyone else. Our offensive football team played very well in spurts, particularly late in the game yesterday."

Because the Bucs felt most comfortable when the ball was in Cadillac's hands with the game on the line, he got 14 of his 37 carries in the final quarter. He was primarily responsible for two clock-draining drives into Green Bay territory in that last period. After the first one ended on an interception, he simply did it again, this time with the Packer defense doing whatever it could to get the ball back for Brett Favre.

Williams needed 21 yards in the fourth quarter to get that third straight 100-yard game. He got 79. He is averaging 63 yards per fourth quarter. And of course, his numbers taken as a whole are nothing short of historic.

But forget about the end-game. This is only the beginning for Williams, he hopes…as does every Buc fan in the world. The numbers demand that we stop and gush over them for a bit here in late September, but Williams doesn't think they really mean much yet.

"To me, this is just the third week," he said. "I'm in this thing for the long haul. I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of my career. I know three games would not make that, therefore it really hasn't sunk in yet. I'm sure down the road it will."

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