Bucs lose Cadillac, Petitgout for remainder of season
"You lose a lot of skill," Gruden said Monday after revealing both players will undergo season-ending knee surgery this week.
Tampa Bay officials confirmed that Williams, the team's leading rusher since entering the league as a first-round draft pick in 2005, sustained a torn right patella tendon at the end of an 18-yard run in the first quarter of Sunday's game. The third-year veteran, who was examined Monday by noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala., will undergo surgery later this week.
Williams faces a long and arduous rehabilitation and, given the typical timetable for such injuries, might not be completely recovered for the start of training camp next summer.
The news on Petitgout's injury wasn't quite as grim.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN.com that Petitgout's anterior cruciate ligament is intact, but that a bone in the area of the ACL was damaged.
That is significant, because it should reduce Petitgout's rehabilitation to about five months, rather than the 9-12 months normally associated with trying to come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Surgery to repair the damage to Petitgout's knee, which will also occur later this week, will not be nearly as extensive as a ligament procedure.
"Watching Philadelphia yesterday play without their left tackle and without their running back, it's not an easy thing to overcome," Gruden said. "Experience and production at those positions is something an offense relies on."
The Eagles allowed 12 sacks and didn't score a touchdown in a 16-3 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.
The Bucs (3-1) were able to finish a 20-7 victory over Carolina after losing Williams and Petitgout, but Gruden knows it will be difficult to stay atop the NFC South without two key players.
Williams was carted from the field in the first quarter after hurting his right knee when he was tackled by Carolina safety Chris Harris at the end of the 18-yard run. Petitgout limped off in the second quarter after defensive tackle Kris Jenkins fell into his right leg at the line.
"That's a big blow. ... We have some people who need to step up now," Gruden said.
The Bucs will use of a combination of Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham to replace Williams, the 2005 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. They finished Sunday with 138 of Tampa Bay's 189 yards rushing against the Panthers.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported on Monday that the Buccaneers contacted the agent for running back Corey Dillon before Sunday's game had even ended to see if the former Patriot and Bengal was interested in resuming his career. He declined.
League sources told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli that Tampa Bay officials were indeed studying some veteran free agents to possibly bolster the running back position.
Petitgout, a ninth-year pro who spent his first eight seasons with the Giants, was signed during the offseason to stabilize an offensive line that has three starters in their first or second year in the NFL.
Donald Penn, a second-year pro, will take over Petitgout's spot at left tackle.
"We're confident in Donald Penn. ... Michael Pittman helped us win a couple division championships here and Earnest Graham is clearly a capable runner and receiver," Gruden said. "We'll move on and do the best we can in the absence of these two players."
Williams was the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft and made an immediate impact, becoming the first running back in NFL history to begin his career with three consecutive 100-yard games. He finished his rookie season with 1,178 yards and six touchdowns, then fell off to 798 yards and one TD in 2006.
He started slowly again this year but was on the way to his best game of the season against Carolina. He gained 41 yards or six carries before being carted off, and finished the year with 208 yards and three TDs.
In a show of support, the entire Tampa Bay team came off the sideline to surround Williams as he was lifted onto the cart Sunday.
"To see a guy have a serious injury is hard to swallow, it's hard to take," Gruden said. "But we've got a lot of resolve on the team. We can't look at this as a season-ending situation. The season's just beginning. We're excited about what we have left."
ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was also used.