As Cadillac Sputters, So Do Bucs
With Carnell Williams finding his rhythm, the Bucs had been on a bit of a roll themselves, winning back-to-back games to keep hope alive after a dismal start. But on a blustery Sunday at Giants Stadium, Tampa Bay's game plan did as good a job of keeping Caddy grounded as the New York defense designed to stop him.
Williams had averaged 21 carries and 96 yards rushing in the previous three games, but he was limited to only eight carries in a 17-3 setback.
He finished with more receiving yards (34) than rushing yards (20) as the Bucs fell to 2-17 under Coach Jon Gruden when attempting 20 or fewer rushing plays. "We fell behind 14-0 and that made it a different game," said Williams, whose only third-quarter carry went for 16 yards. "It's real frustrating because I was just starting to heat things up."
The Bucs trailed only 7-0 early in the second quarter when Williams was victimized on a pivotal play, mishandling a pitch from Bruce Gradkowski.
Fred Robbins recovered the fumble for the Giants at the Tampa Bay 28. Brandon Jacobs scored from a yard out three plays later and Williams carried only three more times the rest of the game.
"The ball knuckled and died on me a little, but it was my fault," Williams said. "It hit both of my hands, so there is no excuse - I should have had it."
Gradkowski was called on to throw on 53 of Tampa Bay's 63 snaps and the Bucs converted only two of 16 on third down against the worst third-down defense in the league.
"One thing you don't want to do in this league, especially on a day like today, is fall behind," Bucs center John Wade said. "We couldn't put anything together consistently on offense. We had very good effort, but we didn't have very good execution."
The Giants were missing defensive end Osi Umenyiora and cornerback Sam Madison, but Tampa Bay averaged a puny 2.8 yards per snap and failed to establish any balance on offense.
"Hats off to the Giants," said rookie right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who handled Michael Strahan effectively after a difficult opening quarter. "They did enough to win. The few times we had things going offensively, we'd shoot ourselves in the foot."
The Bucs are 3-14 in the Gruden era when attempting more than 40 passes and they've gone two consecutive games without an offensive touchdown.
Tampa Bay went three-and-out on its first five possessions and Williams was never a factor against a defense that had been yielding an average of 4.0 yards per carry.
"Once it was 14-0, we couldn't run the ball," Williams said. "We didn't even attempt to run the ball."
After the 14-point deficit wrenched the Bucs out of their game plan, the 5-2 Giants challenged a rookie quarterback to beat them.
"The wind was a big factor, so you knew it was going to be a game where we were going to have to stop the run," said linebacker Antonio Pierce, who led the Giants with eight tackles and forced a key Michael Clayton fumble in the third quarter. "We tried to do that early and once we did that, it played into our favor."
Tampa Bay's last legitimate threat came on the first two plays of the fourth quarter with New York ahead 14-3.
On third-and-1 from the Giants 32, Pierce stopped Williams off right tackle for no gain. On fourth down, Gradkowski scrambled around and couldn't find anyone open before firing incomplete as Strahan closed in.
"This is a good football team we faced, but we had our chances out there," Gradkowski said. "When you don't utilize your weapons and capitalize on chances, then you're going to lose to a good football team."
Williams said he had no quarrel with the critical fourth-down call.
"That was a tough series," he said. "On fourth down, it was a play that we have been working on for three weeks that I thought was going to hit big."
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 30 October 2006