January 11, 2009

Did You Know?

So I was watching the NFL playoff game between the Eagles and the Giants earlier today. At one point in the game, Donovan Mcnabb was called for intentional grounding in his own endzone, which translates of course, to a safety and two points for the Giants. On the ensuing play, the Eagles lined up at the 20 yard line for a "free kick" punt to the Giants. One thing I always wondered, though, was why teams always punted after a safety? I was almost certain that "free kick" meant that teams had the option to line up and kick a normal kickoff from the 20 yard line, just like after scoring a touchdown or field goal.

Out of curiosity I did a little research to find out. It turns out that I was right. Teams do have the option to kickoff, punt, or drop-kick after a safety. However, they are not allowed to use a tee, like for a regular kickoff, and must have a player hold it like for a field goal. Also, the rationale for almost always choosing a punt appears to be a combination of typical kickoff vs. punt distance in comparison to typical kickoff return vs. punt return yardage. Even though a typical kickoff would be slightly longer than a punt, because a punt travels so high, it's much easier to cover, which amounts to much shorter returns. This makes the punt the preferred option, coverage of a punt is easier and more reliable.

What I found most interesting out of my little research effort, though, was not the specifics of the kickoff after a safety rule, but was another obscure rule that I stumbled across called a fair catch kick. A fair catch kick is a rarely used option that teams have after signalling for, and receiving a fair catch after a punt or a kickoff. From Wikipedia:
Fair catch kicks can only occur when a member of the receiving team signals for, and successfully makes, a fair catch (or is awarded a fair catch after a kick-catch interference penalty.) That team then has the option of restarting play either by snap or fair catch kick. If the team elects the fair catch kick option, the kicking team lines up at the spot where the fair catch was made, and the opposing team must line up at least ten yards downfield. The kicker then may either place kick the ball from a teammate's hold (a kickoff tee may be used in high school) or drop kick the ball. Three points are awarded for kicking the ball through the uprights.
It's something that would only happen in rare situations when a fair catch is made in field goal range within the final seconds of the half or game. Apparently the last successful fair catch kick for a field goal was made in 1968, but quite a few have been attempted since then, including one a few weeks ago on the last game of the season between the Packers and the Lions! I had never heard of this rule, and never seen it in action, have you?

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