SPARTANBURG, S.C. – It was the 2012 season finale in New Orleans and Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams had just rushed for a team record 210 yards against the Saints. He had just averaged a season-high 10 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns.
Williams enjoyed the season-ending 44-38 victory with his teammates, and it was a satisfying finish to what was a trying season.
But Williams surely hoped there would have been more games like that one when the 2012 season began.
Earlier in the year he was replaced in the starting lineup by Jonathan Stewart. From Week 5 to Week 11, he averaged just over six carries per game.
The Panthers' all-time leading rusher admitted it was tough.
"It was tough, it was very tough," Williams said. "Not the fact that I wasn't a starter – because you can not start and still be productive and still get more plays and have more opportunities than the back in front of you. That wasn't my issue.
"It bothered me a little bit that I didn't get the opportunities that I thought I should have gotten. That lasted for one game because as a team player, you can't feel like that. It was one of those (situations) where if this is what it takes to win games, then this is what I'm willing to do."
An ankle injury kept Stewart out of the final five games of the season, and Williams reassumed his role in the starting lineup.
"He handled it like a true pro," head coach Ron Rivera said.
In those final five contests, Williams averaged more than 16 carries per game. Then he proceeded to run wild in New Orleans.
He said he prepared in the offseason just like he always does. He said his training camp mentality hasn't changed.
But quarterback Cam Newton said he noticed something different about Williams when training camp began.
"I think he wants it, man. I sense something in DeAngelo that I haven't seen," Newton explained. "He's a guy that has that look in his eye like, 'Hey, it's either now or never.' And that's what you want to see."
Williams smiled when told of Newton's comments. Then he added his take.
"I think I am just more verbal about it," Williams said. "The clock is winding down for some of the older guys. Like I told Cam, 'The time is now.'
"We don't have to go home in December, we don't have to go home in January. We can go home in February, just like those two teams that end their season in February. I'm not saying that we are going to go; I'm just saying that we all have that opportunity as (one of) 32 teams in this league."
Williams stressed that winning is what's most important to him. He wants to win and he wants to help the team win. Like all great players, he wants the ball in hands.
He said a running back can never get enough carries, but when pressed for a specific number of touches he'd like, Williams replied: "Enough to win the football game."
Rivera and new offensive coordinator Mike Shula insist the Panthers plan to keep the running backs more involved in the offense this year, and Williams plans to give them reason to call his number.
"I'm not going to scream it out and yell that I want the ball," Williams said. "I'm just going to do it with my actions. Every time I touch the ball I try to make something happen.
"I'm a role player and I'm going to play my role. Whatever role they need me to play in order for us to win games, I'm going to do that."