The Fair Catch Rule Explained

In Special Teams, What's the Call? by vIQtoryLeave a Comment

When a team fair catches a punt, typically the offense comes on the field.

What happens when a team calls for a fair catch? 2 things can happen. Teams can send out the offense to try to score points or they can send out their field goal team for a chance at a fair catch kick.

What Is The Fair Catch Kick?

First take a look at the video below to fully understand the rule and the situation we’re describing.

The Fair Catch Rule

We often see a player on a punt return wave his hand above his head for a fair catch – to protect himself from contact.

Many coaches and players are under the impression that the ball is dead, and both the offenses and defenses come on the field. There is, however, more options that may occur once a fair catch is signaled.

Let’s first look at the most common option

Offense & Defense Taking The Field

As shown in the video above, the punt returner is signaling for a fair catch. We often see returners signal for a fair catch for many reasons:

  • Protect themselves from contact
  • Secure the ball
  • To ensure the Punt Team will not gain any more yards on the kick

The first reason is the most common. The punt team has 10 players running at you (often times with a 40 yard, full head of steam). The best way to protect yourself is to signal a fair catch, catch the football, and end the play.

The fair catch rule, however, puts pressure on the returner – as he more than likely will have 4-5 players surrounding him (most of the time yelling for him to mess up). Players under pressure will often misjudge the ball and muff the punt due to the pressure of the players surrounding him.

Poor punt returners will let the ball roll behind them and give up an extra 10-15 yards. This is crucial for teams, as they’re giving up potential first downs and valuable field position. Securing the football and ending the play is a major factor in healthy field position for the offense that comes on the field.

Before we get to the Fair Catch Kick – comment below if you’ve ever heard of the fair catch kick or if you’ve ever seen it in a game. We’d love to hear about it!

Fair Catch Kick

Let’s dive into the ruling above.

The other option after a fair catch rule, is the fair catch kick. Brace yourself for this ruling, cause I guarantee you’ve never seen it before.

The Fair Catch rule , according to the NFL rulebook:

SECTION 18 – KICKS
ARTICLE 1. KICK
A Kick is intentionally striking the ball with the knee, lower leg, or foot. A kick ends when a player of either team possesses the ball, or when the ball is dead.

Item 1. Drop Kick. A Drop Kick is a kick by a player who drops the ball and kicks it as, or immediately after, it touches the ground.

Item 2. Placekick. A Placekick is a kick made by a player while the ball is in a fixed position on the ground. The ball may be held in position by a teammate. If it is a kickoff, it is permissible to use an approved manufactured tee.

Item 3. Punt. A Punt is a kick made by a player who drops the ball and kicks it before it strikes the ground.

ARTICLE 4. FAIR CATCH KICK

A Fair Catch Kick is a drop kick or placekick without a tee from the spot of a Fair Catch in an attempt to score a Field Goal.

ARTICLE 3. FAIR CATCH KICK DOWN
The game clock operator shall start the game clock for a fair-catch kick down when the ball is kicked.

This ruling can happen after a punt or after a kickoff.

How to Initiate a Fair Catch Kick?

Simple. Call for a fair catch. The coach then needs to tell the referee he’s going to attempt a fair catch kick.

This will prompt both coaches to put out their kickoff and kickoff return teams.

The fair catch rule (for kicking) is a bit funky. Here’s why:

  • The Defense can’t rush or attempt to block the kick
  • The kicking team has to cover the kick after it’s kicked

The defense will stand still and wait until the ball is kicked. It’s similar a kickoff return but with no movement. It seems a bit awkward and unfair at times that the kicking team has a free try at points.

This rule is similar to that of football’s ancestor – Rugby, where the kicker has an attempt to make an extra point with no rushers.

Second, the kicking team needs to cover the kick. In both clips shown above, the kick was WELL short. The kicking team needs to now treat it like a kickoff and try to tackle the returner.

How Many Points Is A Fair Catch Kick Worth?

The fair catch kick is worth 3 points, similar to a field goal.

If the return team returns the fair catch kick for a touchdown, 6 points is awarded (similar to a standard kick return)

The reason teams should be aware of this ruling – is simply for field position sake with limited time left on the clock. Heres a scenario…

Team A has to punt from their own end zone. 10 seconds left on the clock and the game is tied 14-14. Team A’s punter can punt the ball 25-30 yards.

Depending on the field goal kicker of Team B, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to fair catch the punt and try to kick a 40 yard field goal. This gives the team better odds then throwing a Hail Mary and hoping for the best.

Of course this is all circumstantial, but it’s a realistic scenario that may occur more than once in a game.

What are your thoughts? If you’re a coach, would you ever try a fair catch rule (kick) in a game? If you’re a kicker, do you think you could hit a deep field goal with no one rushing? Let’s hear your answers in the comment section below.

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