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Reader Mail!: Safety Punts

Where does the kicker have to kick the ball from after a safety? I know it’s set up to kick at the 20-yard-line, but can the kicker punt the ball from the back of the end zone and have the ball travel to the 30-yard-line (40 yards total) and be recovered by the kicking team? – Joe A

It’s a good idea, but the kick after a safety must be taken from the 20. (Or reasonably close – I imagine that the referee either won’t notice or won’t care about a punt delivered from the 19.)

Rules that apply:

6-1-1: A free kick is a kickoff or safety kick that puts the ball in play to start a free kick down. It may be made from any point on the kicking (offensive) team’s restraining line and between the inbounds lines.

Notice how it says “on,” not “on or before” the restraining line.

6-1-2-a: The restraining line for the kicking team shall be … its 20-yard line for a safety kick.

Notes:

1. There doesn’t appear to be a specific penalty for punting further back, but it clearly violates 6-1-1. I would imagine the referees would simply order a re-kick from the 20, but a 5-yard penalty for offsides or a half-the-distance penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct is possible.

2. The Bears tried to kick off from the 30 in the first game of the preseason, supposedly to practice covering kicks, but were prevented from doing so once the NFL office found out about it.

3. Any free kick punt that hasn’t yet hit the ground can be fair caught by the receiving team, forcing the onsiding team to give the receiving team room to make the catch and making it near-impossible for the onsiding team to recover barring a muff. This explains why the Patriots didn’t just pop the punt in the air yesterday.

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