Two years ago Mike Williams looked as if he would be the steal of the draft for the Bucs. Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, the former Syracuse wide out was 36 yards shy of eclipsing 1,000 yards receiving and looked as if he was the future of the position for Tampa Bay.
A setback in 2011, largely due to Williams being the focal point of opposing defenses and questionable play-calling, had many asking if the previous season was a fluke. With Vincent Jackson now in the pewter and red, both Jackson and Williams are on pace to break 1000 yards receiving, and the third-year receiver is proving last year, not his rookie campaign, was the fluke.
The premier wide receiver free agent pickup, Jackson is taking the brunt of the coverage, allowing Williams to flourish as the No. 2. After the bye week, it seems as if offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has tailored the playbook to QB Josh Freeman’s strengths – using the talented receiving corps to just make plays if Freeman trusts them. It appears the fourth-year quarterback has more than enough trust in Jackson, Williams, and Tiquan Underwood, and the offense has been running like a well-oiled machine.
“We feel good,” Williams said. “We feel like we have the offense down pat right now. We all are on the same page. There are no more excuses about how this is a new offense. [We] are just on the same page now.”
The Bucs’ ground game is also starting to take shape, with rookie Doug Martin rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown and catching three passes for 79 yards and a score against the Vikings Thursday night. Williams believes Tampa Bay’s second of two first round draft picks adds an important element to the Bucs’ stagnant-turned-high-powered offense.
“That’s great he’s (Martin) having a game like that,” Williams said. “You can’t play too hard now. You got to pick your poison now with him. He keeps playing like that so it feels good to see what the defense is going to try to do now.”
Against New Orleans last Sunday, Williams looked as if he had caught the game-tying TD (barring a missed extra point attempt), but was flagged for illegal touching after being chucked out the back of the end zone by Saints CB Patrick Robinson. Under NFL rules, Freeman had left the pocket at the time of the incident, thus eliminating any illegal contact on the defense. The Bucs and fans were heartbroken, but Williams rebounded Thursday night with a signature highlight reel catch after snatching a jump ball in the air and tip-toeing both feet inbounds in the back corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
Never satisfied with his own performances, Williams downplayed the reception as routine.
“I would say out a ten it was about a three [or] three and a half,” Williams said. “Something like that. It was a routine catch.”
When asked if he’s ever had a perfect-10, Williams simply answered, “Never.”
Instead of taking credit for his athletic catches and relishing in the success he’s had this season, Williams put it all on his quarterback.
“It was great,” Williams said. “My two catches I had was because of him (Freeman). I had a slant on both plays and he changed them both. One to a fade and one to a go. On both plays he just knew what the defense was doing at all times. Me I didn’t know at all. I [was] still thinking it was cover two and he changed it to a go. I saw they changed it to cover one and then [caught] the catch after that.”
Williams keeps everything in perspective, going back to his rookie season when he caught 65 passes for 964 yards.
“It was okay,” Williams said. “I think I could have done better that season too. Hopefully I can have a better season and we get in the playoffs this year.”
Sitting at a 3-4 record, the playoffs might seem like a world away to most people, but to Buccaneer players, the goal feels like it is in reach. Possibly most important for the players, including Williams, is a confident belief that the offense is improving each week and nothing caps off great performances like victories.
“Well I would say [the offense was] better than last week because we got a win,” Williams said. “Anything that comes with a win I am taking it.”
- Victoria Horchak contributed to this report.