Football: Downing A Punt

Fans can become confused when the kicking team attempts to “down” a punt, particularly when the ball is near the goal line.

NFL Rule 9, Section 2, Article 2 (Page 2/4) allows the receiving team to take the ball at the point either where the kicking team first touches the ball (aka the “first touching”) or where the ball becomes dead, either because the kicking team possesses the ball before the receiving team touches it or the officials whistle the play dead.

Item 2 of Article 2 discusses a touchback, whereby the receiving team gets the ball at its 20 yard line:

If a player of the kicking team touches the goal line with any part of his body while touching the ball, the ball is dead, and the result of the play is a touchback.

Note 3 of Article 2 continues the discussion:

The spot of first touching is normally the yard line at which the ball is at when touched. If the first touching occurs while the ball is in the air above or beyond the goal line, and prior to the ball touching the goal line or the ground beyond the goal line, the spot of first touching is deemed to be the spot from which the touching player left the field of play, but in no event inside the receiving team’s one-yard line.

Read here about fair catches and interference with an opportunity to catch a punt.

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4 Comments on “Football: Downing A Punt”

  1. I think a negative effect is when the receiving team touches the ball inadvertently. A punt bounces near the 20 yard line, touches an unaware kicking team player, and bounds near the goal line where another player touches it, unaware of the first touching. The receiving team gets the privilege of taking the ball near the 20 – the point of the first illegal touching.

    • The DA Blog says:

      Now that’s a good example. I was struggling while thinking about how enforcing the illegal touching penalty on a drop kick or field goal might prove beneficial.

      I was also surprised that Rule 8 (Scoring) contained a bunch of information about Touchbacks. (I believe it was under Section 6.) That didn’t seem like the place to write about Touchbacks, but I suppose they have their reasons.

      • The rules are far more byzantine than I expected. Let’s become refs – lots of exercise, universally loved…

      • The DA Blog says:

        I’ve thought about reading the rules from cover to cover with the mindset that I’d never seen a football game before. I believe it would result in having almost no idea what the rules actually meant.

        Refs are like steel walkers (or whatever skyscraper builder guys are called). Completely different frame of mind …


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