It is not often one is tempted to write that an NFL player has just produced the greatest game in his franchise's history at his specific position. That said, it is not an act of hyperbole to make that suggestion regarding rookie punter Jake Camarda after his Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 16-13, on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
If punting numbers don't normally catch your breath, take a minute to soak these in: Camarda punted six times for 357 yards against the Rams, dropping four of those six inside the 20 against one (questionably-ruled) touchback. He finished with a gross punting average of 59.5 yards per kick and a net average of 54.2, both of which are single-game franchise records by a comfortable margin.
Camarda's six punts included a 74-yarder in the second half that tied for the longest in franchise history, plus 68 and 66-yard blasts along the way. In one game – IN ONE GAME – Camarda produced three of the eight longest punts in the entire history of the Buccaneers.
These accomplishments are not limited to Buccaneer history, either. Camarda punted six times, as noted. In every game in league history in which a punter has gotten off six kicks, Camarda's 59.5-yard gross average is tied for the best ever, matching the output of San Diego Chargers' punter Mike Scifres against the Rams on October 17, 2010. Camarda's 54.2-yard gross average is the third-best ever for a punter with at least six kicks in a game.
What makes all of these head-spinning numbers all the more sweeter is that Camarda's efforts were absolutely essential to the final outcome of the game. Head Coach Todd Bowles told his team in the locker room after the game that the Bucs' win was a full-team effort, but he gave out exactly one Game Ball. To Jake Camarda.
"Camarda was huge," said the coach. "I mean we gave him the game ball. He was huge today. Without him punting that ball and changing the field position, we'd probably be in some tough situations"
Perhaps the most amazing and important moment for Camarda came midway through the third quarter, with the Buccaneers trailing 10-6 and the offense floundering through a series of three-and-outs. The Bucs got the ball with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter after Matt Gay's 26-yard field goal made the score 10-6, and failed to gain a first down. In their efforts to get off a punt, the Buccaneers were flagged for holding on one attempt and a false start on another. That pushed the line of scrimmage back to Tampa Bay's 15, at which point Camarda blasted a 74-yarder that went over return man Brandon Powell's head and rolled out of bounds at the Rams' 11.
The Buccaneers scored a field goal on their first possession to take an early 3-0 lead but after a 69-yard touchdown catch by Cooper Kupp in the second quarter never led again until the five-second mark at which Cade Otton caught Tom Brady's one-yard touchdown pass. The game was a grind – the Buccaneers' offense had five three-and-out possessions; the Rams had eight. In such contests, field possession is crucial, and Camarda's kicks were a deciding factor. He was quick to share the credit, however.
"I can't get a punt off unless I get a snap and I can't get it off unless we block," he said. "Those guys did a great job."
It seems almost ridiculous to pile this on, but the Buccaneers faced five total kick returns between punts and kickoffs (which Camarda also handles). One of those went out of bounds; of the other four, Camarda had the tackle on two of them. Those were additional contributions to what Bowles called a complete team win. Camarda agreed.
"We did some good things, we did some things we need to work on," he said. "But overall we played really hard, that's always good. Love the guys out there, I think we did a good job in all three phases. It was a team win. We did a great job. It was a team win."
The best thing that Camarda's powerful right leg did for the Buccaneers in Week Nine was make it possible for Tom Brady to have one last shot at winning the game. And he did, which made Camarda not only outstanding at his job, but also prophetic.
"I'm pretty sure when there were forty-something seconds left, I walked up to one of the guys on the sideline, and said we are going to score," he said. "There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to score, so I felt really good about that, confident, obviously. One hundred thousand [percent] and he's Tom. So, we got a lot of confidence from that."