In the NFL, can the punter recover his own punt?

A few weeks ago, there was a weird play at Taylor Field, in the CFL. The Roughriders were third down, so they punted. The Eskimos player who was to field the ball watched it bounce right in front of him, but didn’t try to pick it up. Roughrider players gathered around in a semi-circle, outside the 5 yard radius so they wouldn’t get a “no-yards” penalty. And then the Roughrider punter, who is not offside to the ball under CFL rules, came in and scooped up the ball, recovering his own punt.

Some of the commentators said that the unusual play was caused by the inexperience of the Eskimo fielder, who didn’t know CFL rules. But why wouldn’t he try to recover the ball? :confused: And, did he not know that the punter could recover it?

I believe he can. I’ve seen one or two games where the pass was bobbled and the punter then threw for a touchdown in the endzone.

Well, the punter has the same option as the quarterback to run or pass as well as punt (as the QB could punt as well if he wanted), but I’m sure that’s not what was meant by recovering his own punt.

If the ball is punted, it cannot be recovered by the punting team. If the punter manages to chase down his own punt, play would be stopped at the spot he picked the ball up and the other team would take over on downs, which would happen for any other member of the punting team.

However, that’s only if the other team doesn’t touch the ball. If the punt bounces off the receiver’s head, it’s now a fumble and up for grabs. Here, the punter has as much right as any other player on the field to claim possession, but would technically be a fumble recovery rather than a punt recovery. I imagine that this was why the Eskimo fielder was trying to stay clear of the ball.

Disclaimer: The above is based on my understanding of the rules as a casual fan of NFL football, and not through any actual research of the official rules, so I welcome any corrections.


Yeah, what he said. The rule on punts in the NFL, simplified, state that after a punt has occurred, no member of the punting team may touch the ball, until after it has been touched by the receiving team. One of the very few examples of where the US has the rules correct where Canada is still confused.

That’s my understanding too.

If the punting team recovers a punt, it’s a dead ball at that spot and the receiving team takes possession there.

If the receiving team muffs the punt (fumble), then the punting team has equal right to recover the fumble.

The kicking team CAN recover its own kick on a kickoff, though, even if the receiving team does not touch the ball first, but the kicking team cannot advance the ball once recovered this way. Also, the kickoff must travel at least 10 yards before the kicking team is eligible to recover this way.

It’s not likely that the punter would recover the ball unless the punt was blocked, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t be the one to get it.

Usually it happens because

a) The returner is an American and isn’t used to the Canadian rules
b) The ball is rolling towards the kicking team’s end zone, so the returner is letting it go to get his team a few extra yards

It can get ugly when the returner forgets the rules and signals for a fair catch.

I think that is simplified but wrong. The punting team can’t re-gain possession unless the receiving team has touched the ball. However, the punting team can touch the ball, as long as it has gone 10 yards IIRC, and ‘down’ the ball. The receiving team still gets possession though.

Agreed, except for the 10 yards part. That’s on a kickoff only, and applies to regaining possession (since a kickoff is a live ball, and anybody can recover it to gain possession).

It’s technically an illegal touching foul, isn’t it?

From the NFL website:
12. Any member of the punting team may down the ball anywhere in the field of play. However, it is illegal touching (Official’s time out and receiver’s ball at spot of illegal touching). This foul does not offset any foul by receivers during the down.

I’ve never seen them throw a flag for it though.

I would just add that once I saw a punter punt the ball into a wind so strong that it pretty much had hardly any forward motion, only upward. I think at the time they said that it traveled 9-10 yards. Theoretically, that punter could have caught his own punt.

From here:

The officials never throw a flag for “illegal touching.” They just throw a beanbag to note where the ball was touched.

If a field goal or punt is blocked behind the line of scrimmage and recovered there, any player on the kicking team may pick it up and try to advance it.

My first thought upon reading the OP was that maybe the CFL punter thought that the punt had been partially blocked or he saw it touch someone’s foot or something…meaning it would have been a live ball (in NFL rules anyway…).

After reading the CFL rules posted above though, sounds like the CFL announcers were the ones that didn’t know the rules, and here they were blaming the poor kicker!!! Shocking…announcers not knowing the rules of the sport in which they are supposedly an expert!

In practice, this is correct, however, as has been said here several times, it technically is illegal for the punting team to touch the ball. It seems that the origin of this as being considered a foul, and not a legitimate end of the play, is in order to allow the receiving team the opportunity to “decline” the foul if there are circumstances that might make it beneficial for them to do so. For instance, if a punting team-player swats the ball, and the balls rolls backwards into the end zone, the play isn’t ended at the spot of the “downing”, but the receiving team may take a touchback.

They weren’t criticising the punter, but the receiver, for failing to jump on the ball.

Overall, sounds like the receiver was confused about the rule governing his ability to pick up the ball, and didn’t realise that the punter could recover the ball.

thanks for the comments, everyone!

It’s a matter of taste, isn’t it? I like the more wild and woolly aspects of the CFL rules - find NFL boring.

I don’t think that’s correct, but I’m not positive.

As I understand it, the moment a member of the kicking team touches the ball, the ball is dead at that spot. As a practical example, let’s say it’s a really high punt that lands/bounces off the head of a player from the kicking team, then falls to the ground where the returner scoops it up and returns it for a touchdown.

I believe the touchdown doesn’t count; the ball is dead where it bounced off the guy’s head. But as I said, I don’t know this for a fact and would welcome any correction.