Running for daylight
From the start Sunday, RB Cadillac Williams wasted no time showing everybody in Raymond James Stadium that he was back in vintage form. Williams, whose career was nearly ended by serious knee injuries in 2007 and 2008, made his first statement on his second carry when he broke off left tackle for an 11-yard gain. Three plays later, he ran right for a 14-yard pickup.
By the time the first quarter was over, he had amassed 41 yards on six carries.
But Williams' best moment was yet to come.
Facing second and 10 from the Dallas 40 in the second quarter, Williams (back in the game for Derrick Ward in the running back rotation) took the handoff on a Cowboys blitz and raced through a hole on the right.
Suddenly, he was in the open field, looking like the running back chosen as 2005 offensive rookie of the year while rushing for 1,178 yards. It took a desperation tackle by S Gerald Sensabaugh, grabbing Williams by the jersey collar, to bring down him down at the 5.
"Well, it was just great blocking up front," said Williams, who finished with 97 yards on 13 carries. "But after what I've been through the past two years, just to be in that open field - I (realized how much) I've been missing these games. Just to be able to get out there and make a few runs and contribute is a great feeling."
For a moment, after a hard tackle that seemed to buckle the running back's rebuilt legs, it looked as if Williams might have been shaken up as he headed for the sideline.
But that was not the case. "Nah, I was good," he said. "I ran 35 yards in this heat; you're going to be a little exhausted."
After two more plays, with the Bucs facing third and goal from the 1, Williams re-entered the game and added the final touch, leaping over the line for a touchdown and a 7-6 Bucs lead.
To celebrate, he flipped the ball into the stands.
"It was a real big emotion," he said. "A lot of things were running through my mind. Should I keep the ball? Should I give it to a fan? So I said, 'You know what, I'm going to give the ball to a fan, to show 'em how much we appreciate their support.'"
* * *
If it were a boxing match, score it Michael Clayton the winner by a TKO.
Late in the third quarter, the Bucs were trailing 20-7 but seemed to be getting back in the groove. After starting from its 16, the offense began rolling behind Derrick Ward runs of 12 and 22 yards. Then an illegal contact penalty on S Gerald Sensabaugh - negating an interception by former USF standout CB Mike Jenkins - gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Dallas 48.
Four plays later, on second and 10 from the 38, it became crunch time. QB Byron Leftwich rocketed a pass down the middle to Clayton. Just as the ball hit Clayton's fingers, Sensabaugh slammed into him full-bore, stopping him in his tracks.
But the 6-4, 215-pound Clayton bounced backward and held on for an 18-yard gain. Sensabaugh hit the turf and lay there for several minutes, and he was later taken to have his ribs X-rayed (diagnosed as only bruised).
Clayton's catch kept the drive alive and helped set the stage for Ward's 1-yard touchdown plunge four plays later, pulling the Bucs within 20-14 with 13:45 remaining.
"All week we (practiced) it, and I knew the safety was going to be over there," said Clayton, who finished with five catches for 93 yards. "But you know me, it's no fear. If a defensive back is going to bring it, he's got to bring it. And I'll never shy away. I knew exactly where the throw was going to be. It was a bang-bang play, and I was able to hold on. It was a great hit by him. And I hope he's all right, too."
* * *
Oh, how new Bucs TE Kellen Winslow wishes he had one play back.
The Bucs still had comeback hopes with just less than eight minutes to play. Though the Cowboys had widened their lead to 27-14, QB Byron Leftwich marched the offense from the Bucs 31 to the Cowboys 29 in seven plays. A 3-yard gain by RB Derrick Ward, an incompletion to Michael Clayton and a completion for no gain to Winslow left the Bucs with fourth and 7 from the 26.
From the shotgun, Leftwich looked over the middle and floated a can't-miss ball to Winslow, curling in uncovered from the left. It would have been a first down that kept the Bucs moving toward a touchdown with plenty of time left. Winslow dropped it.
"You know, I didn't look it in," Winslow said quietly by his locker. "That's a ball I usually catch. It could have changed the whole game, though. And that's what I'll be thinking about until Sunday. It hurts. But all you can do is come back and make the next play."
Winslow did come back and catch a 2-yard touchdown from Leftwich with 1:28 to play, but the Cowboys had the win locked up by then.
"I'll miss more than those guys will drop," Leftwich said. "Dropped passes are the last thing that I'm worried about."
Added Winslow: "We played real hard, and all we can do is come back for the Bills and prepare for Sunday."