It had to be him, didn't it? After a whole season in which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have looked miles off their recent championship form, Sunday brought an opportunity that few would have expected this team to have: Beat the Panthers and go to the playoffs. This Bucs team may in fact be deeply flawed, but they still have him on the roster. You know who I'm talking about. The one player you wouldn't ever want to bet against.
You think he didn't hear all the jokes this season? How could he not? Every week brought more naysayers out from their hiding places, all of them eager to delight in each limp performance. This is what he came to Tampa for? To lose the the Browns? To be humiliated week in and week out? He let the critics have their fun, of course. He could have easily responded by pointing out that the Bucs' woes had very little to do with his efforts, and that he was in fact the one being let down by his teammates. But you don't become a leader by passing the buck, and this game has never seen a player better suited for the role. So he kept quiet. He bided his time, and waited for his chance.
Did you ever stop believing? Maybe you started to feel some doubts after the back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Panthers. Or how about when the losing streak reached three games in Week 8, and the Bucs were languishing at 3-5. Did you start to feel like this project was going nowhere? Surely there were some whose lack of belief extended all the way into Sunday's game against the Panthers, in which the Bucs were down 21-10 in the second half. But he was still there, just waiting for the right time to provide the same lesson he's been providing throughout his seven-month professional career: you never count out Jake Camarda.
Even after Camarda's teammates, playing up to his level for perhaps the first time all season, gave their star punter the lead with under a minute to play, they still needed Big Punt Jake to bail them out. Had he just fallen on that bad snap, Camarda would have handed the Panthers fantastic field position with plenty of time to score and win the game. But ever since coming into the league in 2022, Camarda has never been one to shy away from the big moment. Not only did he scoop up the bad snap, he had the presence of mind to run forward and kick the ball on the run. Did it matter that Camarda was flagged for making an ineligible downfield kick? Of course not. In fact, you have to assume that Camarda took the penalty on purpose, knowing that it would simply move his team back a few yards and give him another chance at a clean punt. You want to know what separates good players from great ones? It's all in that play right there—the athleticism, the awareness, the unwillingness to ever yield, no matter how long the odds might be.
And now Camarda will get the playoff appearance he so richly deserves. Maybe he won't be able to drag this team any further than he already has, but why bet against him now? Haven't we all learned our lesson yet? You never bet against this guy. Never.