Cadillac Williams has run for more yards than all but three players in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He's scored more rushing touchdowns than all but four and had more 100-yard games than all but two. He's got more receptions as a Buccaneer than any other player currently on the roster. He is the only Buc to have won the NFL's Rookie of the Year Award. He is the most recent Tampa Bay player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He owns the fifth-longest run in the franchise's 35 years.
In short, Cadillac Williams has accomplished quite a bit in his five-and-a-half seasons in the league. So why was everyone at Raymond James Stadium – from his teammates on the sideline to the coaches in the upstairs booth to the fans in the stands – so happy that it was Williams, specifically, who clinched Sunday's win over Carolina with a 45-yard touchdown run?
"He's a unique person," said Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson, mulling over why that run was satisfying in so many ways. "He's a very strong character guy. He wasn't voted a team captain but he's one of the players that all of our players look up to. They admire what he's gone through and what type of person and player he is. He's been great throughout this whole entire season, really. All he wants to do is win and he'll do whatever it takes to win, so we're lucky to have him."
You could say, of course, that "it couldn't happen to a better guy," and the sentiment would be right. That might be, in effect, what Olson is saying above. But it didn't really happen to Williams; he made it happen. Just like he made his comebacks from not one but two devastating knee injuries work. Just like he made the Bucs rethink their running back rotation last year and stick with him as a starter for 16 games.
And just like he's making the transition to a LeGarrette Blount-heavy rushing attack work for his team this season.
The Buccaneers' rushing attack produced a season-high 186 yards on 30 carries in the 31-16 win over Carolina, but until Tampa Bay's last offensive play of the afternoon (not counting a final kneel-down by Josh Freeman), Williams had just four of those carries for 17 yards. For most of the afternoon, when the Bucs wanted to focus on their rushing attack, they turned to the rookie Blount, who continued his stunning emergence by rushing 19 times for 91 yards and a score.
During one memorable sequence in the second quarter, the Buccaneers compiled a six-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that was 100% rushing plays. Blount had five of those carries for 73 yards, capping it with the type of acrobatic midair touchdown that is fast becoming his calling card. It was the type of drive that Buccaneers management has been trying to produce for two years, as they seek to transform the team into a physical crew that can rely on its rushing attack on any given Sunday.
But it wasn't any more impressive or more important than Tampa Bay's final drive, which turned a one-score game into an almost sure victory. And that drive belonged to Williams. He converted a third-and-15 from deep in Bucs territory with a 16-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass; had he not, Carolina would have decent field position for a crack at a game-tying drive. Then, with the Bucs just across midfield, facing a third-and-10 and knowing that running down the clock was job number one, he took a handoff on a draw play, burst diagonally through the line to the right of the center and was gone.
Williams isn't really known as a big talker, so when he predicted that outcome in the huddle, Freeman took notice.
"There was a little bit of a delay with the media timeout, so we were in the huddle talking," said the second-year quarterback. "We had a run play called and Mike [Williams] was like, 'Hey, if he presses me, just be aware you can check to a pass.' I said, 'No, we are running this thing,' and Cadillac was like, 'Yeah, we can just score right here, I've got this.' We just handed it to him, he split it, touchdown."
Even with that 45-yarder, Williams' per-carry average on the season is just 3.0 yards. There is no doubt that the running game struggled to get anything going before the emergence of Blount, and there were some afternoons on which it seemed like all of Williams' runs were stuffed at the line. But that's another reason that Williams' 45-yard dash was so happily received – everyone could see that the burst was still there for this never-say-die competitor.
"We never want to make excuses for Cadillac but he's been the victim of some bad stuff now," said Morris. "We're not going to make excuses like that and he won't either. He called his shot yesterday, got a play call from Olie, and he hit the hole and showed what Cadillac does when he gets in the open field. Look at those receivers blocking downfield now – if you think they don't love Cadillac, you're mistaken."
It's not completely unfair to look at Williams' per-carry average, or the six-game stretch in which his game high was 33 rushing yards, and think the status quo wasn't working. But that wouldn't be a completely thorough analysis, either. It's worth noting that Williams, who some would consider unproductive this season, has averaged over 56 combined rushing and receiving yards per game this season. That's more production than any other Buc besides Mike Williams.
That's reason enough to keep Cadillac intricately involved in the team's attack, but there are other considerations that go beyond the stat sheet but still affect the team's success.
"What you say as a coach to Cadillac, and what you do as a coach with Cadillac is very important to your team," said Morris. "Believe me, they're all looking. They all want to know what's going on with Cadillac, and Cadillac wants to know what's best for his football team. There is no doubt about that. Cadillac is the ultimate character guy on our football team. He means a lot to us, he means a lot to our offense and he certainly means a lot to [Josh Freeman]. Just ask him."
Williams'' excellence in the Bucs' blocking schemes has made him very effective in third-down and two-minute situations, as he has displayed repeatedly in recent weeks. It might not have been the original plan to use Williams primarily as a third-down back – for one thing, Earnest Graham does those things well, also – but if that's how the season is going to develop, then the veteran back will do what is necessary to help the Bucs win. That also includes mentoring the young back who is taking on more of the pure rushing load.
"When Cadillac goes out and doesn't have a great game running the ball, and everybody wants to be down on him, it's easy to be the coach from outside the building if you don't know what's going on inside the building," said Morris. "If you don't know how much Cadillac is helping LeGarrette Blount get to this point then you're sadly mistaken and you're making a big mistake in judging that young man's character."
Morris' final point is mostly rhetorical, especially after Sunday. Few fail to recognize the character or the drive Williams has shown throughout his career, or how much he still means to his team. Sunday's game might have been evidence that he is still important to the Bucs' offense, but that point was never in doubt within the walls of One Buccaneer Place.