TAMPA — If there was a moment when Sunday's Raiders-Bucs game turned for the worse, it came when running back Cadillac Williams went crashing to the turf after his longest play of the day.
After spinning and wiggling for a 28-yard gain to the Oakland 39 on the first play of a fourth-quarter drive that began with 9:44 remaining and the Bucs up 24-21, Williams experienced the unthinkable: He tore the patellar tendon in his left knee as he was tackled from behind by cornerback Chris Johnson. Williams was done for the day and the foreseeable future. With him, it appeared, went the Bucs' momentum.
It's the same injury Williams suffered in September 2007, but to the other knee. Now, a devastated Williams is left to ponder what will become of his career while his coaches and teammates can simply hope for the best.
"I think I was almost sick to my stomach when I saw him go down," defensive end Kevin Carter said. "I was standing right there, and it was just like utter shock on our sideline just to see it happen to him. It's really horrible."
Williams, 26, spent nearly 14 months coming back from last year's injury, returning to the field on Nov. 23 after spending the first half of this season on the physically unable to perform list.
He declined to speak with the media after hobbling from the shower Sunday, but the drying tears told the story. So, too, did Williams' furious reaction after going down. It was as if he immediately knew his fate.
"To hear him screaming like that, man, he knew exactly what it was because he's had it before," said center Jeff Faine, who acknowledged the injury had a negative impact on the team. "I wouldn't blame the loss on that, but you can't deny it. We're all human."
Coach Jon Gruden said: "I think that scene didn't help us at all. It was a very emotional downer on our sideline."
Information late Sunday indicated this tear is less severe than Williams' first, but that would be only a small consolation. Most medical opinions indicate that rehabilitation can take six months to a year. But rehab can't begin until after surgery and the subsequent healing process, which can take eight to 12 weeks. And because the patellar tendon enables a person to bend and straighten the knee, the injury is particularly difficult on players who need quick acceleration, such as running backs.
For Williams, the team's No. 1 draft pick out of Auburn in 2005, Sunday's injury occurred as he was enjoying the best day since his return. He scored twice and had 115 yards on 17 touches (12 carries, five receptions). Equally impressive was that Williams seemed to be running with more authority each week, a sign his confidence was returning.
"This sums up the word, 'Hurt,' " linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "I could not feel as badly for any individual. To see what he did coming back, the type of game he was having, the inspiration he was providing, and to see him go down again on the sideline. … I'm just praying for him."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.