According to the official NFL rules about punting, http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/rulebook/pdfs/12_Rule9_Scrimmage_Kick.pdf Rule 9 (Scrimmage kick), Section 3, (Catch or recovery of a scrimmage kick) Article 1 (Kickers catch or recover behind the line), Item 2 gives the kicking team a new set of downs if the ball hits a member of the receiving team beyond the line of scrimmage and then ricochets back behind the line of scrimmage, then is recovered by the kicking team.

This apparently applies even if the member of the receiving team touched the ball by accident or was blocked into it by the kicking team.

  1. Why does this rule exist?
  2. Why are the kickers given a new set of downs?
  3. Has this ever happened in the history of football?
  4. Is there any coach who would ever try to do this deliberately as a desperation play on a 4th-and-a-mile (or 3rd-and-a-mile)?
  • Reminds me of the "Rouge" rule in the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eton_field_game
    – Snowbody
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 6:50
  • The "Rouge" rule is in the CFL.
    – Sam Dai
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 22:28
  • While they probably came from the same origins, the Eton field game "rouge" rule is completely different than the CFL "rouge" rule -- check the link.
    – Snowbody
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


It is actually one of the most debated rules in the referee circles.

Why is it there? Because what are the alternatives? What is the difference between a blocked punt and a player trying to catch the punt? What if there was a terrible punt and a player tried to catch a lazy line drive at helmet level 5 yards down field? Block or a catch try if it tips off his fingers?

So that is why the rule works like that. It is just stating that a block is the same thing as a "catch" try. If you touch it, it is a live ball for recovery.

Have I seen this happen? Yes. And I have had to call this in a few high school games on bad kicks. Try explaining this to a crowd of moms and dads... holy cow.

But note that once the kicking team touches it - so if it tips off an offensive lineman's shoulder pads, it is a live ball for the returning team but they can also choose to return the ball to the spot of the first touch - after the play is over. So if a punt tips offensive lineman than return team player picks it up and fumbles after losing 10 yards... they can choose to take the ball at the tipped spot.

So have I seen this happen on purpose? No. The punter has to make a very hard kick, the big offensive line need to duck, the defensive line needs to touch the ball and you have to grab it. Also the ball can't be touched by the defense at or behind the line of scrimmage. So you are telling your o-line to not get hit by ball but also don't let anyone in the backfield...

Could it strategically be used. For sure. Quite possibly if done well enough you have a good 50% chance of gettting the ball back. However in the instances that you would want to use it like a 4th and 27 with 2 minutes left in game... The return team if coached well is in a safe return formation with no returner and no one going after the punter which makes the play pretty unlikely to work. But if you think it will work 10% of the time and your offense would convert less than 10% of its 4th and 27s... than why not?

  • So you're saying that in the case where the ball ricochets behind the line of scrimmage, the purpose of the rule is so referees don't have to make a judgment call as to whether the defender was trying to block the punt, receive the punt, or wasn't even trying to touch it. But If the ball stays past the line of scrimmage, though, the referee still has to determine intent.
    – Snowbody
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 2:56
  • No I am saying that intent doesn't matter. If you are on the offensive side of scrimmage it is a block and acts as a blocked kick the rest of the play. If you first touch it on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage it is an attempted return no matter what.
    – Coach-D
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 3:02

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