Williams was placed on injured reserve when the Bucs returned to practice after having the weekend off. The fourth-year pro who signed a six-year, $40.25 million contract in July, had 22 receptions for 216 yards and two touchdowns in six games.
"Mike had a hamstring injury that he tried to play through, but just wasn't effective doing it," coach Greg Schiano said. "He'll get surgery now, and it'll be repaired. He'll be fine, but it'll be a little bit of a recovery."
Losing Williams is yet another blow to the winless Bucs (0-7), who've struggled offensively in the wake of a messy split with quarterback Josh Freeman and injuries to running back Doug Martin and guard Carl Nicks, who are both out indefinitely.
Williams injured his right hamstring against Arizona on Sept. 29. He was inactive against Philadelphia on Oct. 13, but played the past two weeks and had a combined seven catches for 52 yards and no TDs.
A year ago, Williams teamed with Vincent Jackson to give Tampa Bay one of the top receiving tandems in the league. Jackson is off to another strong start with 41 receptions for 623 yards and four TDs. However, the sore hamstring hindered Williams' ability to do what he's done best since entering the league as a fourth-round draft pick in 2010 — make leaping catches over defenders downfield.
While Jackson was putting together his fourth 1,000-yard season in 2012, Williams averaged a career-best 15.8 yards per reception on the way to finishing with 63 catches for 996 yards and nine TDs.
"After getting all the information from the doctors, he was allowed to try (to play)," Schiano said. "He did for two weeks, but wasn't really himself. He couldn't do the things he needs to do to be effective, so it's time to get surgery."
Before sitting out this month's game against the Eagles, Williams had not missed a game in his career. He's started 52 of 54 games he's appeared in and has 215 receptions for 2,947 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Williams going on IR leaves rookie quarterback Mike Glennon with just one established receiver, Jackson, who's had 100-yard games in two of the third-round draft picks four starts.
Tiquan Underwood likely will move into the starting lineup, and Williams' absence figures to create more playing time for Chris Owusu, Eric Page and Skye Dawson, a trio of young, unproven receivers.
"This is a great opportunity. I'm just going to try to run with it," Underwood, a fifth-year pro with 43 career catches, said.
"Mike's been banged up for a better part of the year, so I don't think it's going to be that much of a change," Schiano said. "Relative to what could have been, sure. Mike's a very fine player. But that's part of life in the NFL. The next man will get the opportunity, and we'll go with that."
Tampa Bay is next to last in the NFL in total offense, averaging 297.7 yards per game. The league's only other winless team, Jacksonville, is last.
Schiano said he does plan to tweak some changes to try to help Glennon, who's thrown 181 passes — more than any player in league history through the first four games of a career.
"When you're 0-7 you look at every single thing, and I'm sure we're going to be stronger for it moving forward," the coach said.
"I think we've put Mike is a bad spot. He's thrown too many passes. ... We shouldn't put him in that spot as coaches," Schiano added. "We've re-evaluated that and we're going to try to play a little more balanced."
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