Rookie punter Jake Camarda's wild, heads-up play helps save Bucs, Tom Brady's 14th straight playoff berth

Tom Brady and Mike Evans were the stars on Sunday. But rookie punter Jake Camarda played a strong supporting role with a wild play to help save the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season.

Brady and Evans connected for three touchdowns as the Bucs rallied past the Carolina Panthers, 30-24, to clinch the NFC South. The effort may have gone for naught if not for an athletic, heads-up play from Camarda with the division on the line.

With Tampa Bay leading, 30-24 in the game's final minute, the Bucs lined up to punt from midfield. The snap was low and bounced off the turf. Camarda didn't panic. He corralled the ball off the bounce, then sprinted left to escape Panthers kick rushers. Then he managed to get a punt off — and it was a good one.

With three defenders converging, Camarda punted as he approached the line of scrimmage. He got the kick off just before linebacker Corey Littleton shoved him to the turf out of bounds. The punt stayed in bounds and out of the end zone before Tampa Bay's coverage team downed it inside the 2-yard line.

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Unfortunately for the Bucs, the punt didn't stand. They were flagged for an illegal man downfield amid the chaos and had to punt again. But the potential disaster that was averted stood. Without Camarda's play, the Panthers would have been assured of prime field position and potentially scored a go-ahead touchdown on the busted play.

Instead, Camarda successfully pinned the Panthers inside the 10-yard line on the next play, and the Panthers's last-gasp rally came up short. And Brady and the Bucs are back in the postseason.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Jake Camarda (5) picks up a fumbles snap late in the fourth quarter during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, January 1, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)
Jake Camarda didn't panic in a key moment on Sunday. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)