The Panthers and Buccaneers are playing in London today, which makes it the perfect time to confuse everybody with an extremely obscure NFL rule that even most American fans don’t really understand: the fair catch kick!
The Panthers forced the Bucs to punt from deep in their own territory toward the very end of the first half, and signaled for a fair catch at the 50-yard-line. This allowed coach Ron Rivera to invoke the fair catch kick, also known as a free kick, which is one of those weird holdovers from American football’s origins in rugby.
Fans were perplexed:
The big advantage to a fair catch kick over a regular field goal attempt is that the ball doesn’t need to be snapped, and the defense must line up 10 yards from the line of scrimmage—a lot like a kickoff, but if it goes through the uprights it’s worth three points. This has three knock-on effects, all beneficial to the kicker:
- The ball can be kicked from the line of scrimmage, rather than seven yards behind it because of the snap.
- The kicker has time to take a running start, since the defense can’t move until the ball is kicked.
- The kicker can put the ball on a lower trajectory than usual, because there’s no fear of it being blocked or tipped.
Unfortunately even with all these advantages, Panthers kicker Joey Slye pushed the 60-yard attempt to the right.
Had Slye made it, it would have been the first successful conversion of a fair catch kick since Ray Wersching nailed one for the Chargers in 1976. But even just the try was rare enough: there hasn’t been a fair catch kick attempted since the 49ers’ Phil Dawson in 2013.