As they sat in the team hotel room the night before Sunday’s game against the Redskins, Bucs running back Carnell Williams told teammate Michael Clayton that he needed to have fun again.
As frustrated as he had been over the lack of running opportunities – not to mention the poor results that showed up when those opportunities did arise – this was a time to enjoy the game.
This was a time to stop thinking of it as a chore and to relax, smile and play as if he were back at Auburn or in high school in Alabama.
It turned out to be perfect timing.
Williams ran over the Redskins. Up and down and through. He scooted left and cut back right. He finished runs with authority, if not attitude.
He smiled and smiled some more.
I believe that’s called having fun.
“Of course, if I say I didn’t get discouraged, I’d be lying,” Williams said of previous games when the Bucs running game looked trapped in quick sand. “At times I was frustrated. At the same time, I just know me, as a person, and this team, we were going to continue to fight.
“I definitely want the Bucs to call my number. As a back, I just know they have to run me because when you continue to run me, they are going to get tired and I’m going to make a play.”
Give Williams credit, at no point during this disappointing season has he thrown Jon Gruden’s play calling under the bus. He has routinely petitioned his position coach for “about 20 carries a week” but never made it a stink.
Maybe he should have. Sometimes screaming works.
In fact, up until Sunday’s 20-17 win, Williams did whatever he could to control what anyone with eyes would have considered cruel circumstances.
But now, here’s Gruden’s problem: Williams can say, “How you like me now?”
He can point out that at the end the 20-17 win over the Redskins, he had rushed for 122 yards on 27 carries. He can point out that the Bucs are 9-0 when he has 21 or more carries in a game. He can hang his hat on this: they are 7-1 when he rushes for 100 yards.
So, I’m thinking, why doesn’t this dog get bigger servings?
“I kind of talked to Cadillac about his frustrations,” Gruden said. “You are not the Lone Ranger in frustration.”
Fine, but everyone in the locker room isn’t like him.
They can’t run like him. They can’t change the game like him.
Look, at one point late in the fourth quarter, Williams churned out 44 yards on six carries. The drive ended with a 31-yard Matt Bryant field goal that was the difference in the game. That’s why he’s the “Lone Ranger.”
And if Cadillac Williams was the difference in the first half, here’s a vote for Mike Alstott’s effort at the very start of the game.
Virtually a non-entity in the string of defeats this season, Alstott opened the Bucs offensive effort with some of that brutal down-hill running that has made him a frequent flyer to Hawaii.
This included a classic Alstott moment, a punishing 16-yard carry in the first quarter during which he trucked Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs in a moment that resembled a special effect from Mission Impossible III.
You would be shocked to know that the crowd, yearning for any sight of Alstott, was immediately worked into a fury.
You might be equally shocked to know the Bucs offense responded to that fury as well.
“We do, we feed off of it,” left tackle Anthony Davis said. “When (Mike) came out there and made some positive runs and the fans got into it, then that motivates us to get up and do what we do.”
Center John Wade said seeing Alstott mash like that is a reminder of how things once were.
“He had some great reads,” Wade said. “He found his holes. I was getting off the ground and looking up and he was still running down the field. It’s great to see that.”
This, of course, presents the next obvious dilemma, does Gruden allow Alstott to be more of a factor Thursday night in Dallas?
Does he put the game in the hands of Williams?
He has to!
“Running the football is pretty much it,” Davis said. “When you think about it, football is a man’s game. When it comes down to it, you have to run the ball. It’s mano-a-mano, simple.
“This gives us so much confidence, especially going into Dallas. We knew we could run the ball. We were never getting beat physically. I know people were writing that we’re getting beat and that we need new people here and new people there. It was some minor little things, some details, little mistakes here and there. So, for us to come out and cross the Ts and dot the Is, it’s wonderful for us.”
The challenge for Gruden and the rest of the Bucs is to find a way to keep that going. No more talk about down and distances. No more excuses about what defenses give and what they take away.
It’s got to be Williams, Williams and more Williams. And some Alstott in between. That’s how the Bucs move the ball on offense.
Plain and simple!
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