When 2007 began most people expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to improve, but not to the extent that they did by the end of the year. A division championship was an unexpected gift to Buccaneers fans and the franchise. How did it happen?
In hindsight, there are signposts to a successful season. Here is No. 1 in our series of the most significant moments of the 2007 season and how they impacted Tampa Bay's run to a division championship.
8. CARNELL WILLIAMS, LUKE PETITGOUT SUFFER SEASON-ENDING INJURIES, SEPT. 30
You could sense after a 2-1 start that things were beginning to come together for the Bucs offense. They averaged 327 yards in total offense in their two victories and scored 31 and 24 points in those wins. Jeff Garcia was pulling the strings of a deep passing game with Joey Galloway, while also spreading out underneath passes to Ike Hilliard and Alex Smith. Meanwhile, Carnell Williams was just beginning to show flashes of his 2005 form, while Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham were providing capable support.
And then in the first quarter as Williams sprinted down the Carolina sideline for his biggest game of the season, everything changed.
Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith signaled the change. When Williams tried to cut back and went to the ground in a crumpled heap, he began waving across the field to the Bucs trainers to get over there.
The diagnosis? A torn patellar tendon, perhaps the worst knee injury an athlete can suffer. The recovery time and prognosis were about a year. And then, who knows what kind of back Williams might be.
That was bad enough. But a few minutes later left tackle Luke Petitgout left the game with a knee injury as a result of a collision with one of his own players. He was now done for the year.
Pittman and Graham picked up the slack for Williams. Little used backup tackle Donald Penn took over for Petitgout.
And the course of the season changed.
Williams' injury — and Pittman's injury the next week — opened the door for Graham to shine, as he rushed for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns as the primary back. Petitgout's injury hastened Penn's progress and by the end of the season he had grown into a solid, effective left tackle.
That set the tone for the rest of the season. As the Bucs lost player after player to injury — some for the season, some for a few games — others stepped up.
Tampa Bay's 2007 season became the season of the journeyman, as players that had never had a chance to shine stepped into the spotlight, succeeded and contributed to the Buccaneers' run to a division title.
And it all started in Carolina with a couple of busted knees.
Next: An interception saves a much-needed win.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.