I saw this situation in the NFL game between the San Fransisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks on December 15th, 2022 in which it happened in the 4th quarter at 13:19.


Seahawks punted the ball at SF 44 and the 49ers didn't catch it. I understand this situation is a fair catch so that the 49ers can start from that spot. But the ball rolled on the ground toward the end zone and the Seahawk picked up the ball right before it went through the end line. So it is recorded as a 43-yard punt, and the 49ers should have to start from their 1-yard line. If the Seahawk did not touch the ball, the ball would have gone through the end line, so it should be a touchback to start from the 25-yard line.

I didn't understand

  1. why the Seahawks can pick up the ball they punted
  2. why it is not the Seahawks' ball as in an onside kick situation,
  3. and why that situation is neither fair catch nor touchback.

Maybe I am misunderstanding some NFL rules.


2 Answers 2


I understand this situation is a fair catch

No. You have to catch the ball for a fair catch to happen.

  1. The kicking team can touch the ball, but the receiving team then has the option to take possession either where touched or where the ball is dead. Picking up the ball counts as a "recovery", and makes the ball dead at that point.

  2. The situations are different. Putting the ball in play after a score (commonly called a "kickoff") is in the rule book a "free kick". While punting is done as part of one of the downs of an offensive team. In the rules this is a "scrimmage kick", and the rules to recover are different. The kicking team has no option to retain possession by catching or recovering the punt (unless the receiving team becomes involved).

  3. The receiving team did not catch, so can't be a fair catch. The ball did not enter the end zone, so can't be a touchback.

The relevant NFL Rules here are 9-2-2 and 9-3-2:


ARTICLE 2. FIRST TOUCHING BEYOND THE LINE. “First touching” is when a player of the kicking team touches a scrimmage kick in the field of play 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 live-ball penalty is accepted on the play, or at the spot where the ball is dead.


ARTICLE 2. KICKERS CATCH OR RECOVER BEYOND LINE. When the kickers catch or recover a kick beyond the line of scrimmage, the ball is dead at the spot of recovery, even if a member of the receiving team has first touched the ball.

Kickoffs not from scrimmage (and the possibility of kicking team recovery) would be found under Rule 6 (Free Kicks)

  1. why the Seahawks can pick up the ball they punted?

Both the kicking, and the receiving team can recover a punt. The usual scenarios are: a player in the receiving team catches the ball, or the receiving team let the ball bounce and roll.

  1. why it is not the Seahawks' ball as in an onside kick situation

When the kicking team posses the ball after a punt, they cannot advance it. The ball is marked dead at the spot of the touch. The kicking team can opt to touch the ball to stop it from rolling unfavorably. If the ball rolls or lands past the endline, the receiving team will start from the 20 yard line. So the kicking team is better off stopping a ball that is rolling towards the endzone. Also if the ball takes a bad bounce and starts coming backwards towards the kicking team, they're better off stopping it, so that the punt distance doesn't get reduced further.

Note that if the kicking team touches the ball, without maintaining possession, the ball is live and the receiving team can then advance it.

  1. why that situation is neither fair catch nor touchback.

To have a fair catch, the catcher must signal for a fair catch. This is done by bringing an arm over the head and waving it. Only in that situation, the catch is a fair catch, where the catcher is protected from being hit, but cannot advance the ball after catching either.

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