TAMPA — Cadillac Williams' biggest personal goal this season had nothing to do with rushing attempts, yards or touchdowns.
In fact, he could accomplish it without ever taking a handoff.
He simply wanted to get up, go to work, come home at night and do it all over again the next morning.
Day after day, month after month, until he could string together 16 consecutive games played — something injuries had not permitted him to do at any point in his career.
If his ability was God-given, a lack of durability had become a real demon.
"That's big, man. As a personal goal for me, that was No. 1," Williams said. "It wasn't 1,000 yards or touchdowns or this or that. My No. 1 goal was to play in all 16 games and come out of the year healthy. If nothing goes wrong this week, that definitely will happen. I'm very proud of that to be honest with you."
A year ago this week, Williams was enjoying his best game of what had been an abbreviated season. After a 28-yard run in the fourth quarter against the Raiders, he tore his left patellar tendon. It was the same injury he sustained to his right knee in 2007.
Sunday, it was hard to determine which was the better comeback story: the Bucs rallying from a 17-0 deficit to upset the Saints at New Orleans 20-17 or Williams rushing for 129 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
"It really is amazing …," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "I just don't think enough has been made about what a significant event that we all had a chance to witness on Sunday. For a guy who hadn't had a 100-yard rushing game since the '06 season, and to go through what he's gone through, it's such a neat story for such a good person and a great football player."
It was the first 100-yard rushing game of the season for the Bucs and the first for Williams since October 2007.
In fact, with running back Derrick Ward aggravating a knee injury and yielding to Williams, he rushed 10 times in 11 plays for 40 yards during overtime to set up Connor Barth's winning field goal.
After the game, Williams stood in the middle of the locker room, dripping wet from a shower, and whooped it up like a Times Square reveler on New Year's Eve.
"Ask anybody about Cadillac, he's a vocal guy who loves to have fun," said teammate Micheal Spurlock. "I played against Cadillac in an all-star game and I played against him at Ole Miss. Every time you saw him, it was this little guy who played with so much fire and so much heart. But after he got the second knee surgery, you could see the air get let out of him. To see him back was great.
"There was just joy for him to prove, hey, I really can do this."
The Bucs weren't certain when Williams would be able to play in 2009. And when he did, they didn't know how much he could contribute. That's why the Bucs signed Ward to a four-year, $17 million contract.
"We took Derrick Ward thinking it would be a very difficult road for Cadillac to come back," Olson said. "That's one thing you learn is don't doubt Cadillac Williams. But also, once we got into the season, our thought was we'd rotate them and keep them fresh so he would be able to play throughout the season. So we did that for part of the season."
Certainly, the Bucs never expected Williams to emerge from training camp as their No. 1 tailback. And nobody would've predicted he'd lead the team in rushing with 781 yards and four touchdowns on 191 carries (4.1 average).
After the season, Williams will likely become a restricted free agents, meaning the Bucs could match any offer.
Williams said he would like to remain with the Bucs to complete the journey.
"I'd be lying if I said it was an easy road," Williams said. "It was a tough road. But sometimes, you've got to go through bad stuff to get where you want to be."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] Follow the Bucs blog at blogs.tampabay.com/bucs.