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Whenever an offense reaches the 4th down in American Football, i.e. they didn't achieve to get a new 1st down in their past 3 attempts, they're faced with basically 2 fundamentally different options. They can either play that down as a "normal" offensive play in order to reach a new 1st down, or they can either punt the ball or attempt a field goal, depending how far they are from the end zone.

The usual strategy is to settle for a punt or field goal, unless the situation is rather urgent (i.e. you can't risk giving your opponent the offense) and/or you're confident you can make a new 1st down. What I haven't ever seen in the NFL (although, I'm only following it rather actively for about 2 seasons) is a faked field goal attempt or punt and I wonder if this is even possible. What I mean is making the play look like a field goal/punt, i.e. putting the special team and kicker on the field, and then having the kicker actually run (or pass?) the ball instead, trying to make a normal 4th down attempt.

So do the rules actually allow you to fake a field goal attempt or punt which you then transform into a normal play or does making a genuine field goal attempt require you to go through with this and not doing so would just result in a failed field goal? Is there a difference between punt and field goal in this regard? Or is there a difference between various rule sets, i.e. College and NFL? If you are technically allowed to do that to some degree in the NFL, then why isn't it done more often as a trick play?

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    You don't have to go through with a punt/field goal attempt if lined up as such prior to the snap (many examples can be found via your preferred search engine). I'm not sure if the rules address a fake punt/field goal specifically, but descriptions of a fake punt and fake field goal are found at Wikipedia. – user527 Nov 28 '16 at 14:23
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    The Colts faked a punt on Thanksgiving. youtube.com/watch?v=6ZR4mH_vT3o – Michael Myers Nov 28 '16 at 16:56
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    If you have been following the NFL for two seasons, I'm surprised you are not aware of the Seahawks' fake field goal in the NFC Championship game, less than two years ago. – Martin Argerami Nov 28 '16 at 22:37
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    Wouldn't worry about it, it was an honest question, sometimes we overlook things! You aren't the only one who's wondered, I'm sure. Another one to note, as was loosely alluded to in Coach-D's answer, was the opposite reality, of a en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quick_kick. Field goals out of situation are very rare (I've never seen one in hundreds of games, though I see Coach-D links to one)... but punts from other formations do happen a bit more often. Though both are less common than fake field goals or fake punts, which probably happen every 5-10 games or so. – JeopardyTempest Nov 29 '16 at 7:37
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    @JeopardyTempest - maybe just a trend in my area but punters line up in a shotgun formation more than a traditional punt formation. Also "bad" punters are taught to roll out to their kicking foot if they see there is no rush. This allows gunners more time to get downfield. My son's high school team had a very average (being nice) with a 40 yard average because half his kicks bounced within 20 yards but returner couldn't do anything because gunners were past the ball... so it rolls another 10-30 yards (turf) and all of a sudden, good punt. – Coach-D Nov 29 '16 at 8:29
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A punt has no special bearing and follows the rules of football. Meaning you must have 7 men on the line of scrimmage, the end players are eligible, the backs are eligible, you are allowed a forward pass and so on. You can punt on 1st down if you want.

For punting anyone can do it behind the line of scrimmage. There are several rules around what happens during a punt but more or less any player can punt, they can punt on any down, and the opposing team can return the ball or take it where it is downed.

For field goals it is the same thing. You can do it on any down and the play follows the rules of football. Really the only difference on field goals is the place holder is allowed to stand up and become an active player in the play even though they are kneeling on the ground when they catch the ball. This is the one allowance offered for fake field goals.

Notes:

  • punt or field goal can happen in any formation. Even the traditional shotgun has led to a field goal try (last one I remember was a drop kick by Flutie)
  • punt/field goal does offer the kicker protection more so than any other player on any other play. But they aren't the kicker unless they are kicking. Also refs are much less likely to offer this protection if the play is very non-standard. Meaning on a punt if the punter looks like he is taking off running, then pulls up and kicks it at the last second, the defender would be allowed to hit him if he was already in the act of tackling before kick.
  • drop kicks are things too. But that is a different question and categorized under field goal tries.
  • I have seen punts used as a weapon - rarely and not lately. But if you get a player who is extremely good kicker on the run, he can perform a squib pseudo-rugby kick. If this kick hits a defender beyond the line of scrimmage, the offensive player can pick up the ball and play it. It is an extremely dangerous play but with the right skill set could make defending the punt rather hard.
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Yes you can fake both. They are very difficult to pull off but have succeeded in the past. They are so difficult for many reasons, the first two I can think of:

  1. The line-up (positions and personnel) is specific to make a kick successful and not another type of play. For example look at how far back the ball is sent to a kicker / placeholder compared to a quarterback in shotgun formation.
  2. Also, other teams are always prepared to defend against this.

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