WR Karl Williams took hold of an impressive league record on Sunday
As punt returns go, it wasn't one of the most exciting of Karl Williams career. Williams, who owns two of the five punt return touchdowns in Tampa Bay Buccaneer history, fielded a high, short punt from Atlanta's Dan Stryzinski in the second quarter on Sunday and struggled through the oncoming coverage men for one yard.
But it wasn't the one yard that was important; it was the one return. With it, Williams became the all-time National Football League leader in career punt return average.
How could he do that with a one-yard return? Williams owned a 13.8-yard career average heading into Sunday's game against the Falcons, and the all-time NFL leader was Oakland's Darrien Gordon at 12.9 yard per runback. However, a player needs 75 career returns to qualify for the NFL's career lead, and Williams had 74.
So, on the first of his two returns for seven yards put him into the eligible field, and Williams became the first Buccaneer ever to lead the NFL in a major statistical category. "It hasn't sunk in yet," said the former undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M-Kingsville after yesterday's game. "Hopefully, it will in about 15 minutes. If you see me walking around with a smile on my face, you'll know it has.
Williams now shares the Bucs' punt return role with explosive second-year wideout Jacquez Green, meaning he has fewer opportunities to build on (or, possibly) weaken his record. A sprained foot kept him on the sideline for the previous three games, putting his pursuit of the record on hold. Through it all, Williams has remained consistently effective in the return game.
As a rookie, Williams set a Buccaneer record with a 21.7-yard punt return average, though his 13 runbacks were not enough to qualify for the NFL's single-season record. The next year, he proved it wasn't a fluke by handling the role full-time and averaging 13.0 yards on 46 returns. He also scored a touchdwon for the second straight season, both times taking one the distance against the Chicago Bears in the regular-season finale.
Williams ran just 10 punts back for an 8.3-yard average in 1998 after Green's arrival, and he has averaged 10.6 yards on just seven returns so far this year. With Green's role in the passing game growing by the week, Williams may find himself on the receiving end of more punts than he expected as the season enters its final six week.
Of course, that is an incredible luxury for Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano. After all, how many coaches can turn to the bench and find the most successful punt returner in league history?