Bucs RB Cadillac Williams is no stranger to long journeys and will have to draw upon those memories for his upcoming path.
Williams sustained a severe injury to his left knee during Tampa Bay's 31-24 loss against Oakland. Tackled along the sideline by CB Chris Johnson at the end of a 28-yard run, Williams immediately grabbed his knee.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden categorized Williams' knee injury as "serious" but did not get specific. Teammates, however, indicated Williams tore his patellar tendon. Williams tore the patellar tendon in his right knee against Carolina last season.
"I'm not stepping on anybody's toes by saying we all hold him close to our hearts," Bucs C Jeff Faine said. "We've all watched how hard he worked to get back onto the field and to watch this happen to him, I really can't put into words how bad I feel for him."
Gruden also struggled to hold back his emotions when asked about Williams' injury.
"It's probably the most sickening feeling I've had as a coach," Gruden said. "If you just knew what he did to get to where he was Sunday - scoring two touchdowns, playing his best football arguably since his rookie season - to have it come down to this.
"It's certainly scary. It's both knees now and it will be a long way back for him."
Williams was having his most productive game since being activated from injured reserve in November. He rushed 12 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns, and had five receptions for 37 yards.
Helped from the field, Williams slammed his hand down on the bench in frustration. Fans chanted his name - "Caddy" - as he made his way slowly toward the stadium tunnel, refusing to ride in the back of the cart until he reached the tunnel entrance.
After Williams' injury, Tampa Bay spiraled emotionally. The Bucs saw their 24-21 fourth-quarter lead evaporate as Oakland scored 10 unanswered points.
"Caddy came back and fought hard through the rehab process for the team," said Bucs RB Earnest Graham, who is recovering from a season-ending ankle injury. "He gave us some touchdowns the last couple of weeks and that was a tough break. If he stays in the game, we probably win.
"Even if he doesn't get hurt and we lose, he gets the offseason to continually get stronger. For him to have a tough break like that in the last quarter of the last game, it's tough."
One common denominator in three of Tampa Bay's last four losses was the inability to stop the run.
The Bucs allowed four running backs to rush for more than 100 yards each in the last four games. Oakland RB Michael Bush was the latest, rushing 27 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
"It's a slap in the face to us," Bucs DE Greg White said. "We don't go out there just to give up rushing yards. They get paid and we get paid and we have to play harder. We've got to keep playing hard."
Bush has a history of playing hard at Raymond James Stadium.
The last time Bush visited Tampa, he had 18 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns for Louisville during a 45-14 loss against USF in 2005.
Bucs WR Michael Clayton's 58-yard TD catch was his first since Oct. 15, 2006, against Cincinnati. ... K Matt Bryant finished with 131 points this season, a Bucs single-season points record. Bryant broke Martin Gramatica's mark of 128 set in 2002. ... Bucs S Sabby Piscitelli's 84-yard interception return was the third-longest in team history, the longest not to result in a touchdown. ... The Bucs set a team record for most yards in a single season with 5,456.
Anwar S. Richardson