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Top three plays on special teams from 2017

Posted Feb 14, 2018

With the Winter Olympics heating up, here's a look back at the plays that earned gold, silver and bronze in the kicking game.

In recognition of the Winter Olympics. Panthers.com is looking back at award-winning plays from this past season. Having already awarded medals on offense and on defense, the closing ceremonies feature special teams.

GOLD

Damiere Byrd emerged as a difference maker in his return from injured reserve last season, a sweet but short run of success capped by a historic kick return.

Byrd missed eight games in the middle of the season with a broken arm but returned in December, catching five balls in his second game (he had two career catches before) and then catching his first two touchdown passes the next game. Then in Week 16 against the Buccaneers, he earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors thanks to an explosive 103-yard kickoff return – the longest play in franchise history. His next kickoff return resulted in a leg injury that sent him back to IR, but the record-setter helped vault the Panthers into the playoffs.

SILVER

Byrd's return gave the Panthers a kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown in the same season for the first time since 2003. The honors for the latter also went to a speedy wide receiver.

Kaelin Clay put a Week 12 victory at the Jets on ice with a spin-sensational punt return of 60 yards early in the fourth quarter. Five yards into the return, Clay pirouetted free from a would-be tackler and then let his speed take over, bursting to the outside for the Panthers' first punt return for a touchdown in more than three years. It sealed Carolina's fourth consecutive victory – the best stretch of the season.

BRONZE

Graham Gano was near-perfect on field goals last season, and the flight path of one particular kick and the feeling it unleashed was near-perfect as well.

The Panthers had seen a 30-16 lead at the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots disappear, but the offense quickly moved the ball in position to give Gano a chance to play hero. With four seconds left, he trotted out and drilled a pure-as-could-be boot from 48 yards, giving Carolina a 33-30 triumph to highlight a season in which Gano led the NFL in field goal percentage.