please explain to me the common sense behind the ruling of "downing a punt"

Let’s say Team P is punting the ball to Team R. Team R’s punt-receiver moves out of the way as the ball bounces on the 10, and continues rolling towards the endzone.

One of Team P’s downfield guys touches the ball on the 5, but it keeps rolling to the 1/2-yard line, where it comes to a stop in the middle of a circle of Team P’s guys.

I believe the rule is that Team R takes possession back at the 5, where the ball was originally touched. So why is it that if the ball keeps rolling, and accidentally grazes the plane of the goal-line, it is ruled a touchback?

Why not come back to the 5 yard-line in that situation as well? Or is there something I’m missing in the rulebook? If so, let’s lock this thread and pretend it never existed.


If the ball is touched in fair territory by the kicking team, the ball is dead at the point the ball is touched or lands on the ground. The reason the receiving team lets the ball go is so the kick returner does not get the crap kicked out of him on a ball he would not be able to return very far.

SFC Schwartz.

I think you are missing something in the rules. If Team P touches it at the 5 yd line and it rolls to the goal line, it’s downed at the 5. It’s not a touchback as you suggest.

If, however, you meant that if is NOT touched at the five and rolls to the endzone, it’s a touchback- well, the lack of a touch makes all the difference. I’m not sure why it’d be any other way.

Because, as with any penalty, the other team has the option of taking the penalty or the more advantageous result of the play.

When the punting team is first to touch their own kick, this is an “illegal touch”. It isn’t scored as a penalty, and the officials don’t throw a flag (sometimes they throw a bean bag), but it’s an illegal touch nonetheless. The penalty for an illegal touch is that the other team is entitled to first down at the spot of the touch. There is no additional yardage assessment.

So if the punters touch on the 5 and the ball rolls to the 1, Team R accepts the violation and takes the ball at the 5. If it rolls into the end zone, they take the result of the play–a touchback.

Beat me to it. Here’s the official rule:

To be specific, the ball is not dead if it’s touched by the kicking team unless it is possessed. The difference is batting it versus holding it.
Rules differ from HS to college to NFL, but in the OP scenario, the ball should be placed at the first point of contact if it’s high school. In the NFL, possession only matters, it’s still a kicked ball untll possession, so any and any whacking around of the ball is ignored. NCAA appears to be the same in that regard.

The cool thing about high school rules is that if the kicking team touches the ball during the kick but does not possess it, the returning team can then grab and run with the ball. No matter what happens after that first touching, the return team can take the ball at the point the kicking team touched it, no matter what. So, if the kicking team bats the ball, a returner can grab the ball and run with it, then fumble, but still keep it from that “first batting” spot.

Another situation not mentioned yet: Team R touches the ball at the five, and knocks it backward to the ten where it comes to a stop. Team R can then take the ball at the ten.

I dealt with this question before, so here’s the same answer, slightly modified.

The ball is considered “downed” when it’s picked up or comes to a complete stop; simply touching it doesn’t end the play. Advancing a loose ball, however, is a penalty. Furthermore, if it crosses the goal line, the receiving team always has the option of taking a touchback. That, in a nutshell, is why you see these two situations a lot:

  1. Several members of kicking team surround the ball and just watch, not picking it up until it’s come to a halt or is about to hit the goal line.
  2. As the ball bounces toward the goal line, a kicking team member sprints toward it and attempts to knock it backward (perfectly legal) before it can cross the goal line.

As for letting the ball go in the first place, the returner can signal for a “fair catch”, which makes it illegal for anyone on the kicking team to come within a certain distance of him and whistles the play dead as soon as he catches he ball. However, he has to actually make the catch; if he makes any contact with the ball without controlling it, it’s a free ball. So sometimes it’s better to let it go and accept bad field position than to risk losing possession and a huge chunk of yardage.

Make sense now? :slight_smile:

True also in college, and I believe in the pros as well, although I don’t watch enough NFL football to be sure, and they don’t publish their rule book online.

I believe that when signaling for a fair catch the returner can bobble it and you still can’t hit him until the ball hits the ground.

I’m puzzled by this. Let’s say the ball hits on the 15-yard line, rolls to the 10, and stops. A member of the kicking team then taps the ball with his finger, ending the play.

Can it be said that the ball was “possessed” by the guy who touched it? If so, this seems a different standard for possession than applies to other situations.

Yeah, the ball is also dead if it comes to a complete stop, so the touching with a finger is more of a ritual rather than a necessary thing.

Another situation occurred to me which doesn’t seem explained by any of the responses yet. A player from team P bats the ball forward at the 5, to another player from team P at the 10, who bats it back to the 2, where it stops or is possessed by some member of team P. Surely team R can accept the ball at the 10, but I don’t see how based on the rules posted so far.

(Also a correction: I should have said “Team P touches the ball at the five” in my previous post.)

If the “first batting” rule is in effect, R can take the ball at either the spot of the first batting (subsequent batting is ignored) or where the ball is at the end of the play.
If only possession matters, then it would be at that spot. However, the refs could call illegal batting, like what should have been called on Troy Polumalu on that safety against New Engand. I believe that’s 5 yards from the spot of the foul.

For NCAA, absolutely: any and all touching by Team A of a scrimmage kick untouched by Team B is illegal touching, and Team B can exercise their right to take the ball at the most advantageous spot.

Why here is an example of such in the NFL.