The Bucs did receive some encouraging news one day after their disappointing season concluded.
It appears the injury to RB Cadillac Williams' knee may not be career threatening after all.
Williams said the patellar tendon in his left knee was torn away from the bone, but did not rupture. Last year, Williams ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee, an injury that required a lengthy rehabilitation after surgery.
"Surgery will be required," Williams said. "If it's the way it's been explained, it's more like the Mark Jones tear. After six to eight weeks he was rolling again."
Jones, who sustained a patellar injury in 2007 with the Bucs, returned to be the Panthers' return man this season.
The hope is that Williams will be back in time for training camp in July. But after returning from a 13-month layoff, Williams said he remains very frustrated by the latest setback.
Williams was injured in the fourth quarter Sunday at the end of a 28-yard run when he was tackled by Oakland's Chris Johnson. Williams was having his most productive day since being activated from injured reserve in November. He finished with 12 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns and five receptions for 37 yards.
"It's tough," Williams said. "I was getting a few carries here and there and starting to feel like my old self again. My right knee, which is now my good knee, was feeling good. It's just a freak accident. I have no luck right now."
PHILLIPS UNSURE OF HIS FUTURE
The Bucs received a glimpse of life without S Jermaine Phillips and might not be happy with what they saw.
Phillips broke his left arm against Dallas in October and missed three games. He returned three weeks later only to break his right arm, the same one Phillips fractured in 2004, against Atlanta in December.
Without Phillips at 100 percent down the stretch, Tampa Bay's defense gave up 123 points in its last four games (30.7 per game) and allowed four individual rushers to gain more than 100 yards. Phillips is in the final year of his contract.
"I think they have to look at personnel and see what they need," Phillips said. "We have Tanard Jackson and Sabby Piscitelli, who are quality players. Both are very good and going to be great in the future, so I don't know if safety will be a need for them right now. But if they offer me and bring me back, I would love to be here."
MLB Barrett Ruud isn't quite sure what happened down the stretch, but he isn't about to pin Tampa Bay's late-season defensive collapse on Monte Kiffin's imminent departure to the University of Tennessee.
"Not once in the past month did I go to work and say in my mind, 'Oh, Monte's leaving,'" said Ruud, Tampa Bay's leading tackler. "On the field, I never thought to myself, 'Monte's not going to be here with us next year.' The funny thing is that in the past two weeks, we were sharp in practice and still didn't play well. Monte was here, working all hours of the day and night, but unfortunately, all that preparation didn't translate to the field."
Ruud was happy to hear fellow LB Derrick Brooks is planning on returning for a 15th season with the Bucs.
"I think he wants to play until he's 50," Ruud said of the 11-time Pro Bowler, who turns 36 in April. "Anybody that says something against Derrick just fuels the fire. He feeds off of things like that. He may be the long snapper here when he's 75."
HILLIARD WANTS TO RETURN
Tampa Bay WR Ike Hilliard was shocked when asked if he intended to play again next season.
"Everybody is talking like I'm 42 years old or something," Hilliard said.
Hilliard, who is 32 years old, has one year left on his contract with the Bucs.
Hilliard finished with 47 receptions for 424 yards and four touchdowns and was Tampa Bay's second-leading receiver. Although his numbers are down from last season's 722 yards and one touchdown, Hilliard intends to play for Tampa Bay in 2009.
"I think I did fairly well based on my role playing - maybe anywhere between 12 to 20 snaps a game," he said.