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In this video you can see the Eagles punting the ball away on 2nd down and 40. Randall Cunningham punts the ball into the back of one of his offensive linemen and the ball pops up in the air but continues to travel downfield. The Redskins field the punt and return it for a few yards.

What I don't understand is why this isn't considered a 0-yard "illegal touching" penalty. Normally when a punt is touched by a member of the kicking team, the return team has the option of taking the ball at the spot where it was touched. This is the process by which a kicking team "downs" a punt. So why couldn't the Redskins have taken the ball at the spot where it hit the offensive lineman?

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Because the lineman who was hit by the ball during this play was not beyond the line of scrimmage.

As Eagles lineman #63 was behind the line of scrimmage when hit by the ball, then Article 9-2-1 (Touching Behind the Line) would apply which legalizes contacting a kicked ball before it crosses the line of scrimmage.

NFL Rule 9-2-1:

TOUCHING BEHIND THE LINE. Any touching of the ball behind the line of scrimmage by a kicking team player is legal, even if the ball has crossed the line and returns behind the line.

A first touching penalty would only apply if the kicking team player who makes contact with the ball is beyond the line of scrimmage in accordance with the NFL Rulebook Article 9-2-2. (First Touching Beyond the Line):

ARTICLE 2. FIRST TOUCHING BEYOND THE LINE. “First touching” is when a player of the kicking team touches a scrimmage kick that is beyond the line of scrimmage before it has been touched by a player of the receiving team beyond the line. If the ball is first touched by a player of the kicking team, it remains in play. First touching is a violation, and the receivers shall have the option of taking possession of the ball at the spot of first touching, provided no penalty is accepted on the play, or at the spot where the ball is dead. First touching does not offset a foul by the receivers; if there is a foul by the receivers that is enforced, either before or after the first touching violation, the violation is disregarded, and the penalty is enforced as customary.

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