Not only did Tampa Bay rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams help run out the clock and preserve the Bucs’ 17-16 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, he set foot in the NFL record books in the process.

Williams became the first rookie to start his career with three straight 100-yard games. He rushed a career-high 37 times for 158 yards (4.3 avg.) vs. the Packers, which gave him 88 carries for 434 yards (4.9 avg.) and two touchdowns on the season. Williams’ rushing yards broke former Baltimore Colts RB Alan Ameche’s NFL record for most yards (1955 – 410 yards) in his first three NFL contests.

Despite being the NFL’s leading rusher and serving as the main weapon for the No. 2-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, Williams said his success hasn’t quite registered with him yet.

“To be honest with you, no (it hasn’t),” said Williams. “To me, this is just the third week. I’m in this thing for the long haul. I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of my career. I know three games would not make that, therefore it really hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m sure down the road it will.”

Although Williams has given Tampa Bay’s offense a potent ground attack, some have expressed concern that the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft will wear down later in the season because of the heavy workload he’s had through the first three games of his rookie campaign. Williams is averaging 29 carries per contest, but Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said his young tailback hasn’t maxed out just yet.

“He’s got to prove it,” Gruden said when asked if Williams could handle the heavy workload. “We wouldn’t be putting him in these situations if we didn’t know he could do it. It’s not a coincidence he’s playing his best football late in the game. So, as long as he can take it, we will continue to give him these opportunities. If the situation has us with the lead, we’re in the fourth quarter, and the clock is our enemy, you are going to see more ‘Cadillac’ Williams.”

Although he split carries with Ronnie Brown, the third overall pick in the ’05 NFL Draft, at Auburn, Williams said he’s carried the ball over 38 times per contest before and is ready to do it again if and when needed.

“I think my most carries at Auburn [in one game] was 41, and I had another game where I had 40,” Williams said. “I had a couple games where I had 38, 36 carries, so I’m definitely used to carrying the ball that much.

“From my standpoint I do feel like I can last, but it’s a long season so I guess we’ll wait and see. You know us ballplayers, we always feel like we can do just about anything. You’ve got to have that confidence playing this game that we play.”

Even with all of records he’s broken and the two straight Rookie of the Week awards he’s received, Williams isn’t getting caught up in all of the hype. His mother, on the other hand, is another story.

“I think my mom is enjoying it the most,” Williams said of all the attention. “She calls me every hour to tell me, ‘They’re saying this on ESPN, they’re talking about this, they’re talking about that.’ She’s the one keeping up with all the clippings and really enjoying it.”

Tampa Bay’s defense prides itself on depth, and the Bucs certainly reaped the benefits of having quality depth at safety on Sunday when Will Allen filled in admirably for Dexter Jackson, who sustained a hamstring injury in the first half.

Allen came up with two fourth quarter interceptions vs. Green Bay, which helped the Bucs hold off a second half comeback by the Packers. According to Gruden, Allen has come a long way since entering the NFL with the Bucs as a 2004 fourth-round draft pick out of Ohio State.

“Well, you know it’s a credit to Will Allen, (defensive backs coach) Mike Tomlin and (assistant defensive backs coach) Raheem Morris,” said Gruden. “This guy, Will Allen, struggled catching the ball, coming in here. I look out my window the entire offseason and I see him catching passes on the Jugs machine, sometimes by himself, trying to improve his ball skills. And when thrust into action against a guy like (Packers quarterback) Brett Favre and gets two interceptions, that’s the kind of stuff that makes you really feel good about working hard to see it pay off. It’s a credit to him and certainly Mike and Raheem have helped him.”

Allen showed flashes of playmaking ability during his rookie season in Tampa Bay’s game vs. San Diego, where he intercepted Chargers QB Drew Brees while filling in for Jackson. That, along with his ability to seriously push Jackson for the starting free safety job in training camp, has earned Allen a lot respect from his teammates.

“You have to go back and look at the San Diego game as well, but Will came in at a crucial point of the game and made a big interception for us,” said Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who leads the team with three picks this season. “He’s known for that. He accepts the challenge. Obviously, everybody wants to be in that starting lineup, but we have great depth. For a guy like that to come in at a crucial point like that of a game and makes two of the biggest plays of the game says a lot about our team.”

If Jackson can’t play Sunday vs. Detroit, Allen will get another chance to make splash plays in Tampa Bay’s defensive backfield.

Tampa Bay will attempt to start a season 4-0 for the first time since 1997 when Detroit invades Raymond James Stadium.

The 1-1 Lions, who are coming off a bye week, bring a potentially potent offensive attack, which features what is arguably the best trio of wide receivers in Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and rookie and Tampa native Mike Williams. Those three receivers obviously have the attention of Tampa Bay’s No. 1 defense, which is currently ranked No. 4 vs. the pass.

“They’ve got a basketball team, man,” Kelly said of Detroit’s receivers. “Everybody’s over 6-foot-4. They’re big guys and they play big downfield. It’s going to be a great challenge for our secondary.”

Of course, the Bucs will still set out to stop the run first. Detroit’s offense currently ranks 30th overall and 29th in rushing yards, but Gruden stopped short of comparing Tampa Bay’s No. 1 ranked run defense, or his 3-0 team for that matter, to that of the one the Bucs had three years ago during their Super Bowl run.

“It’s early. I mean we have so far to go,” Gruden said. “Though we are 3-0, we’re happy today, but we look at the tape, we look who’s on the horizon here. There’s an analyst on every corner that’s telling you, ‘Hey, you are one of the top five or six teams in the league.’ Three weeks ago we were in the thirties. You know what I mean, we have to temper our enthusiasm, and take things for what they are. We played three pretty good football games, and we got 13 to go. We got a long way to go.”

Penalties continue to plague the Buccaneers, who have been penalized 34 times for 301 yards through three regular season contests.

Although Tampa Bay has won three straight games, including a 17-16 contest in Green Bay on Sunday, the Bucs were penalized eight times for 103 yards vs. the Packers, which is taking its toll on the Bucs.

“Well, we had numerous penalties,” Gruden said. “We had a good rhythm going in the first half. We got a penalty to start the second half, followed by another one, followed by another one. It’s hard to make first downs when you’re way behind in the down and distance. It takes that running game theory out. You really have to throw the ball and we were able to convert some very difficult situations. But, the penalties hurt us bad and it’s unfortunate because we would have had a lot more success.”

Another area Tampa Bay is looking to improve in is the kickoff return game, where the Bucs are averaging just 18.2 yards per attempt this season. Unfortunately for the Bucs, several key penalties have cost them in this area.

“Penalties and kickoff return, that’s where a lot of fouls have shown up,” said Gruden. “It’s not been good; it’s not been very good at all. We’ve tried two kick returners and tried a couple different schemes. The penalties have hurt us and our lack of execution hasn’t been nearly what it was a year ago. We have to get that thing going.”

Torrie Cox and Mark Jones have returned kickoffs for the Bucs this season, but neither player has made a big impact. Cox is averaging 18.9 yards per attempt while Jones averaged 16.3 yards per kickoff return.

“Right now, things aren’t right on all cylinders,” said Cox. “We need to get back at it on Wednesday. Once we watch this film today and see what we’re missing and what we’ve missed off of last year … obviously we’ve missed a lot of players we had here last year. With the new players we have, you’ve just got to know to step up and we just have to make a play and make something happen. Right now, things are just not happening right now.”

Cox can certainly attest to the fact that penalties are hindering Tampa Bay’s efforts in the return game. In Week 2 vs. Buffalo, Tampa Bay’s special teams unit had seven penalties, and a penalty vs. Green Bay negated Cox’s 33-yard kickoff return on Sunday.

“We had a couple of penalties in this game, so at least we tightened it down from last week, but we had them in the wrong part of the game,” said Cox. “We get a nice return and get it called back. I don’t think it’s too much on a guy trying to hold. It’s kind of hard to do when you don’t know which way the return is going. We are slacking down on the penalties, though.

“Certain blocks are just not there right now and certain holes are not there. I know it could be me just reading them wrong. Teams – I’m not going to say that they’re playing us well right now, we’re just not hitting it off.”

Cox did, however, say the Bucs, who have never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in their 30-year history, can build off of a big return, minus the penalties, of course.

“I had one nice return (on Sunday) and they called it back,” Cox said. “But you feed off that. You start to see the holes better. The new players that we have on the kickoff return – they have to get used to the way I’m going to run. I think things will click this week. I think this week something is going to happen. I just have that feeling. It’s about to come.”

After being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence on Sept. 13, his second arrest for the same offense in nine months, Cox was deactivated for Tampa Bay’s Week 2 game vs. Buffalo.

But Cox returned to action when Tampa Bay battled Green Bay on Sunday, once again returning kickoffs for the Bucs. While he’s still awaiting his day in court, Cox is pleased to be back working on game days.

“I just wanted to be back,” Cox said of being deactivated in Week 2. “We’re winning right now. I can’t sit out and not be a part of this. This is my team, too – my teammates and my coaching staff. I’m just happy to be back and be a part of this. I can’t sit out and just watch it as they’re winning. That sucks. It feels good to just be out there. It has me more amped up than ever – just to be back out on the field.”

Cox said he’s accepted the punishment handed down by the Bucs and is focused on helping his team continue their winning ways.

“When something happens, you have to pay the price for it,” said Cox. “That’s what happened. It was hard to watch, because you know that was something that happened last year. I just get back on track and keep my head focused and get out here and help this team win.”

Gruden on the misses Green Bay had in the kicking game on Sunday

“Very scarily familiar to me. You know, a missed field goal, a missed extra point costs you games. And I’m sure they’re sick about that today. If you’re going to finish last in field goal accuracy, you’re not going to win many games.”

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