Buccaneers running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams wasn’t even sure if he was going to be able to play against the New Orleans Saints one week ago due to bruised ribs, an injury he sustained in Tampa Bay’s Week 1 loss to Seattle.

But not only did he play vs. the Saints on Sunday, Williams carried the ball 24 times for 61 yards (2.5 avg.) and scored two touchdowns en route to Tampa Bay’s 31-14 win over New Orleans.

Williams, who had rushed for 60 yards on 12 carries (5.0 avg.) one week earlier in Seattle before getting knocked out of the game, made it through Sunday’s contest relatively healthy.

“I’m cool,” said Williams. “I’m a little sore, but I’m fine. I wouldn’t say [it won’t be an issue] but it’s something I know it’s something I can play through, so that’s a plus.”

Williams asked running backs coach Art Valero not to remove him from the game in the second half after Tampa Bay secured a 21-point lead on New Orleans. The Bucs told Williams that as long as he felt good they were going to leave him in the game, which turned out to be a good decision.

The 5-foot-11, 217-pound Williams rushed for 53 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries in the second half.

Tampa Bay’s ground attack struggled mightily in 2006. After earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 2005 by rushing for 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and seven touchdowns, Williams suffered through a sophomore slump, carrying the ball 225 times for 798 yards (3.5 avg.) and scoring just one touchdown.

Two games into the season, Williams has rushed for 121 yards on 36 carries (3.4 avg.) and two touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s ground attack currently ranks 22nd in the NFL. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden suggested his offense had room for improvement in the running game.

“Run blocking has statistically struggled,” Gruden said. “We had some good looks. When we had to run the ball late in the game, I thought we did a good job. We came out to start the second half, we ran the ball repeatedly at New Orleans. They knew we were going to run it and we knew we were going to run it, we ran it well. We got a couple first downs. We didn’t convert a third-and-1, which was disappointing. But we scored a touchdown on our next possession. We were goal-to-go and we knocked it in for a touchdown, that’s not going to help your yards per carry but I was pleased with our goal-to-go offense. We’re still looking to break a run. We’re still looking for a big gain in the running game and until we do, our statistics won’t look very good. There was some good surge. There was some good finishes. There were some spotty efforts at times, but New Orleans is a stout, physical defense that is not easy to run against.”

Williams doubled his touchdown production on Sunday by scoring on two 1-yard runs in the first and third quarter, respectively. His lone touchdown run from the 2006 season came in Week 3 vs. Carolina. That contest was played almost exactly one year ago.

Needless to say, Williams felt good getting reacquainted with the end zone.

“That definitely made me feel a lot better to get into the [end] zone,” Williams said. “Truth be told, I hadn’t been there in so long that I actually forgot the feeling. But I got familiar with it on Sunday.”

The last time Williams carried the ball more than 24 times in a game was during Week 11 of the 2006 season when he rushed 27 times for 122 yards vs. the Washington Redskins.

Gruden said he did not hesitate to give Williams more touches on Sunday and plans to find ways to feed him the ball more as the season goes on.

“I want to see him carry the ball more, I want to see him carry the ball a lot more and to do that he needs to get himself ready to carry it a lot more,” Gruden said of Williams. “He needs to get hit, I think he needs to play and work himself through some of his rust and inactivity I forced him through during the preseason. All I heard about was the [complaining] about him not carrying the ball during the preseason. Well you are going to get a lot in the coming weeks.”

Tampa Bay had no new injuries to report on Monday morning.

Bucs defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (knee) has missed the first regular season games with a knee injury. Cornerback Brian Kelly (groin) was held out of Sunday’s contest. Both players’ official status for Sunday’s game vs. the St. Louis Rams will be announced on Wednesday.

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