TAMPA — If he somehow gets his thunderous right foot in the door of Bucs immortality, Jake Camarda’s Ring of Honor banner will have to hang near a corner of Raymond James Stadium.
High above the 10-yard line, or just inside it. A typical resting place for his punts.
Though Camarda remains far — perhaps too far, considering his position — from such reverence, his impact on the franchise through 20 NFL games has been unmistakable. His display of hang time and hustle Sunday against the Bears — earning him NFC special teams player of the week honors for the second time in his career— was only the latest in a sequence of astounding punts and/or displays of athleticism.
“He’s a lot better athlete than I thought he was,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said Thursday. “From a kicking standpoint, he’s kind of what we thought he was when we got him (in the fourth round in 2022). He had a big leg in college, he has a big leg in the NFL.”
Will the legend ultimately match the leg? Twenty games in, it seems possible. Here (in ascending order) are what we deem Camarda’s most impressive moments so far.
First impression, in triplicate
Sept. 11, 2022
Bucs 19, Cowboys 3
The initial punt of Camarda’s NFL life — in the 2022 opener against the Cowboys — served as a hang-time harbinger of what was to ensue. Standing just inside his own 20-yard line, Camarda launched a shot that barely missed the hands of lunging Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong before sailing skyward and bouncing off the bottom of the AT&T Stadium video board (“That thing was still on the way up, too,” NBC play-by-play veteran Mike Tirico said). By rule, Camarda had to re-punt, delivering a 43-yarder negated by a Cowboys penalty for running into the kicker. His third attempt? A 63-yarder for a touchback.
Bomb vs. Bears
Bucs 27, Bears 17
Camarda’s 72-yard punt from his own 28 in the second quarter — which went for a touchback — essentially flipped the field in a one-point game (Chicago’s ensuing drive resulted in a missed field goal). It was the third-longest punt in franchise history. “You know, I don’t really think about it that much,” Camarda said when asked about the punt that traveled roughly 80 yards in the air. “I kind of just go out there and try to hit the best ball that I can.” For good measure, all five of Camarda’s kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Thinking on his feet
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Bucs 27, Bears 17
His team trailing 7-3 early in the second quarter, Camarda spontaneously converted what turned out to be one of the game’s most critical plays. The holder on Chase McLaughlin’s 40-yard field goal attempt, Camarda said he heard the “thud” when Bears interior lineman Rasheem Green blocked the attempt, then raced to recover the ball, preventing a Bears scoop-and-score. Chicago took over at midfield but went three plays and out. “I think it was just instant reactions by us, and it happened obviously very quickly,” McLaughlin said. “So we both turned around and tried to make a play, and I hate to admit it, but he’s got a little more speed than I do, so he was able to get there and make the play.”
Now that’s a goal-line stand
Nov. 6, 2022
Bucs 16, Rams 13
His team down by four midway through the third period, Camarda found himself punting from his own goal line after consecutive penalties gave Tampa Bay a fourth and 20 from its own 15. He responded with a 74-yard blast — tying Sean Landeta for the longest in franchise history — that gave Los Angeles possession at its own 11. The Rams went three plays and out on a night when they were routinely pinned deep in their own territory. Camarda averaged 59.5 yards on six attempts, tied for the highest single-game gross average in NFL history among punters with at least six tries. Three of the six were downed (or rolled out of bounds) at or inside the 11.
Day at the improv
Jan. 1, 2023
Bucs 30, Panthers 24
His team’s playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Camarda not only helped salvage the Bucs’ season, he delivered arguably the most athletic play by a punter in franchise lore. The Bucs were clinging to a six-point lead with less than a minute to play when Zach Triner delivered a low snap to Camarda, who bobbled it near his 40-yard line. With the Panthers converging, Camarda secured the ball, dashed left and somehow got off a punt with his right foot that rolled inside the 5-yard line. The Bucs were whistled for having an ineligible player downfield, but Camarda lofted the ensuing attempt high, forcing a fair catch at the Panthers 8. “I don’t like to tell him because I don’t want to give him a big head, but yeah, he’s definitely one of the most athletic specialists I’ve had,” said McLaughlin, who has kicked for seven teams in his four-plus NFL seasons. “He’s got the athleticism there, but he’s also just got the wit, too, to be able to react quickly and make plays happen.”
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