Breaking Down NFL's Free Kick Rule After 49ers' Attempt vs. Rams

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIISeptember 26, 2013

Week 4's Thursday night NFC West showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and the host St. Louis Rams took a turn for the strange at the end of the first half.

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh elected to give kicker Phil Dawson a shot at a free kick—a rare strategy that caused confusion amongst fans and everyone involved in the game. 

Dawson is a historically stupendous kicker, but he is 38 years old after all, and this was a 71-yard attempt—sure to smash the NFL record if he were to nail it through the uprights.

As might be expected, the wily veteran overexerted himself a bit in the process. He came up well short and pulled it to the left:

Thankfully, the NFC's Director of Communications, Randall Liu, was on hand to provide the rulebook definition:

Here is a full description of the ruling, per

After a fair catch, the receiving team has the option to put the ball in play by a snap or a fair catch kick (field goal attempt), with fair catch kick lines established ten yards apart. All general rules apply as for a field goal attempt from scrimmage. The clock starts when the ball is kicked. (No tee permitted.)

Rams receiver Austin Pettis caught the kick and attempted to run it out of the end zone, bidding to put up a miraculous score to give St. Louis momentum going into halftime. It wasn't to be, as he was tackled around the 10-yard line and the Rams trailed 14-3 at the intermission.

The Niners could afford to take the risk with such a commanding lead, although in retrospect, perhaps letting strong-armed quarterback Colin Kaepernick chuck it to the end zone might have been a better move.