TAMPA — Bucs WR Mike Williams, for the first time in 30 games as a pro, was held without a catch in the Bucs' 31-15 loss Saturday night to the Cowboys.
He was targeted just once by QB Josh Freeman. Coach Raheem Morris said he still believes in Williams.
"I wouldn't say we've lost confidence in him," Morris said Sunday. "But (Saturday) was obviously a tough night for him."
So, what was behind this performance by the Bucs' leading receiver? The reasons are multiple.
Williams, the split end or "X" receiver, suffers when the Bucs have difficulty protecting Freeman, as they did Saturday night. That's because the pass routes designed for Williams are longer than other receivers and, thus, take more time to develop.
"Obviously, when you have protection breakdowns, the X is kind of out of the (picture)," Morris said. " … When that stuff happens, you lose your X.
"Your X routes are going to be deep digs, deep comebacks — the sorts of things Mike runs well. The routes that Mike catches are deeper routes, and (Saturday) night wasn't a good process for us."
In addition, Williams cited the extensive zone coverage the Bucs saw from the Cowboys — and Tampa Bay's inability to beat it — as a reason for his lack of production.
"We've seen a lot more zone than we've ever seen in our lives," Williams said of recent games. "(Defenses) know how to adjust. The first thing is reading the zone and knowing where to sit and being on the same page with the quarterback. That's the biggest challenge. … It can look like man (coverage) and if one person is off, thinking it's man (coverage) and it's not, it's a bad play."
For Williams, he said the lack of numbers doesn't bother him.
"It's never about catches and stats for me," he said. "I just want to get a win."
But his production is part of what will bring wins.
And Williams, who is on pace for more catches than his rookie season, has, to an extent, been less productive in his sophomore season.
He has dropped more than 3 yards in per-catch average, going from 14.8 per catch in 2010 to 11.7 this season. Williams had 11 touchdowns in 2010 and has just three this season.
But two games remain, and Williams' hope is that it can be the start of something.
"We have to use the last two weeks as the beginning of next year," he said. "We have to start a winning streak."
TALIB'S STATUS: CB Aqib Talib fell victim to his hamstring injury for the third straight game, and injured reserve is beginning to look like the most realistic option.
The team left Myron Lewis inactive against the deep Dallas receiving corps, and when Talib left the game after two series, Tampa Bay was forced to use seventh-round pick Anthony Gaitor as its fourth cornerback.
Still, even without Talib, the play in the secondary was disappointing.
"Early on, we went out there and played a little man coverage," Morris said. " … We lost some battles, and those things can happen. It's individual battles being lost. We have to win those battles."
Morris also attributed the struggles of the secondary to a lack of consistent pass rush. Dallas QB Tony Romo bought time in the pocket and managed to complete 23 of 30 passes.
BENN BACK: WR Arrelious Benn, who sat out after a concussion, said he will play on Christmas Eve at Carolina. Benn said he felt he was able to play, but the team ultimately decided to keep him sidelined Saturday.
Bucs at Panthers
1 p.m., Saturday, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13, 620-AM, 103.5 FM