Could the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prove that they could win without their sensational rookie rusher Carnell "Cadillac" Williams? That was the question the team faced entering Sunday's game against Miami after stumbling from the unbeaten ranks in New York last week without Williams, who is nursing a foot sprain and was inactive against the Jets. But led by backup running back Michael Pittman and an energized offensive line, the Buccaneers dispelled that silly notion by running for 180 yards on 34 carries (5.3 avg.) in their 27-13win against the Dolphins while Williams missed his second straight game.
Pittman led the way for Tampa Bay with a season-high 127 yards on 15 carries (8.5 avg.) and a touchdown. For his efforts, Pittman is this week's PewterReport.com Pewter Player of the Game.
Pittman got Tampa Bay's offense cranking on its initial drive with a 33-yard dash off the right side on a counter play. The Bucs would score a touchdown seven plays later.
But his biggest play of the day came with Tampa Bay clinging to a 13-6 lead with just under two minutes left in the third quarter. On third-and-1 from the Bucs' 43-yard line, Pittman took a flip pitch from quarterback Chris Simms and juked Miami's Pro Bowl defensive end, Jason Taylor, who was unblocked in the backfield and charging towards the Bucs' halfback. Once he was past Taylor and picked up the first down, Pittman skirted past rookie linebacker Channing Crowder and was off to the races.
However, the incredibly athletic Taylor was in hot pursuit and was closing fast as Pittman began to slow up and celebrate near the Miami 7-yard line. Pittman had enough of a lead on him that he was able to step out of Taylor's grasp as the Dolphins defender lunged for his feet, but that wasn't enough to please head coach Jon Gruden.
"That's two weeks now that we've seen that with (Joey) Galloway taking the gas off against Detroit," Gruden said, alluding to Galloway just barely making it to the end zone after slowing down as a Lions defender closed in. "We've got to get into the end zone before we begin any displays of celebration. That's a fineable offense in our room, and Pitt, you are going to be fined for that."
Pittman, whose 57-yard touchdown jaunt in the third quarter was - well, Cadill-esque - admitted to putting on the brakes too early during the run.
"I saw Jason coming off the edge and it was just instinct, trying to make a move and make him miss, and I did that," Pittman said. "I thought he fell. I was running, (and when) I was in the open field, I slowed down a little bit. All of a sudden, I felt somebody clip my feet and it was Jason Taylor."
Pittman's 57-yard score was his first rushing touchdown of the season. After the game, Gruden commended him for playing well in Williams' absence, especially since Pittman himself was questionable heading into Sunday's game with a sore shoulder.
"I like that guy a lot," Gruden said. "He has really been unselfish. He's taken somewhat of a backseat to Carnell early in this season. When we needed him against Detroit, and certainly today, he gave us all he had."
Pittman, who also had an 11-yard reception against Miami, was appreciative of the opportunity to carry the load and praised Tampa Bay's offensive line for the holes he had to run through.
"My offensive line blocked great today," Pittman said. "It was tough facing a rough defense all game. Coach gave me the opportunity to make plays, and I went out there and played my butt off."
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