The fair catch rule

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Yesterday saw my annual “pilgrimage” to LP Field for a Titans home game.  I have a couple pages of notes, but I’m still too angry to write anything useful about the game.  I will however, post the text of Rule 10-2-3 of the current NFL Rulebook:

Item 3: Muff. After a valid fair catch signal, the opportunity to catch a kick does not end if the ball is muffed. The player who signaled for a fair catch must have a reasonable opportunity to catch the muffed ball before it hits the ground without interference by members of the kicking team, and regardless of whether the ball strikes another player or an official.

So, disconcerting though it may seem, and as much as I yelled about the decision at the time, the refs did indeed get that call right.  Bad luck for the Titans, and too bad for Jason McCourty, who otherwise would deserve a great deal of credit for a heads-up play.
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13 Responses to “The fair catch rule”

  1. Garland Says:

    I still have not seen the play in question, so I have a question. When the punt was muffed, did it bounce up in the air or away from the returner? In other words, if McCourty had not been standing there to catch the ball, would there have been any “reasonable opportunity” for the returner to catch the ball before it hit the ground?
    Anyone know where a video of the play is?

  2. Tom Gower Says:

    Garland
    I still haven’t re-watched the game, but McCourty was within a yard or so of the returner and had to act quickly to grab the ball. He definitely prevented Jones from having a “reasonable opportunity” to catch the ball before it hit the ground.

  3. Garland Says:

    Thanks

  4. Lisa Says:

    I was at the game listening to TitansRadio & heard the rule even over the booing. Watching the repeated replays at the game, the ball bounced off his hands, up & away from him & it would have hit the ground if MCCourty hadn’t been right there. I didn’t like the call either but turns out this was the same ref who called the Brady Tuck Rule, which turned out, well you know. Several of us in my section listen to the radio at the game that we understood the explanation.Sure, he threw out that rule like it was a run-of-the-mill neutral zone infraction while as a crew, the refs huddled often and took forever the make a lot of obvious calls after flags landed very near players (How is Mr Brown’s eye sight now? Anyone forget that flag hurl?? Seemed like they have!) But yet they huddled on HOU #55’s false start that I saw from the 13th row in the end zone.I’ve been to all 107 Titans home games. Each game has been exciting, but even for a disappointing divisional loss, this was a really good game. Hard fought all the way. My fantasy team, well not so much!

  5. Lisa Says:

    I was at the game listening to TitansRadio & heard the rule even over the booing. Watching the repeated replays at the game, the ball bounced off his hands, up & away from him & it would have hit the ground if MCCourty hadn’t been right there. I didn’t like the call either but turns out this was the same ref who called the Brady Tuck Rule, which turned out, well you know. Several of us in my section listen to the radio at the game that we understood the explanation.Sure, he threw out that rule like it was a run-of-the-mill neutral zone infraction while as a crew, the refs huddled often and took forever the make a lot of obvious calls after flags landed very near players (How is Mr Brown’s eye sight now? Anyone forget that flag hurl?? Seemed like they have!) But yet they huddled on HOU #55’s false start that I saw from the 13th row in the end zone.I’ve been to all 107 Titans home games. Each game has been exciting, but even for a disappointing divisional loss, this was a really good game. Hard fought all the way. My fantasy team, well not so much!

  6. Johnathan Says:

    I had actually read this rule before and had interpreted it to mean the kick itself hitting the ground, as in prior to the returner catching it. Because if it were to hit the ground in front of the returner, and bounce to him, the fair catch is off. I think, even with the rule spelled out, it is a gray area in the rule. Under the interpretation of the rule used the in the game, the returner could “bobble” the ball all the way to the endzone, and if her were touched it would be fair catch interference.

  7. Tom Gower Says:

    Jonathan,
    This is only a rule dealing with fair catches, which cannot be advanced. If this hadn’t been a fair catch, the ball is fair game. Further, this was a muff, and, well:
    “A Muff is the touching of the ball by a player in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain possession of a loose ball.
    “Note: Any ball intentionally muffed forward is a bat and may be a foul.”
    So, your scenario is covered.
    Lisa,
    Saying they got this play right was not intended as a general defense of the refs. I’ve said elsewhere they were awful and indecisive the entire game. I’m just trying not to think about such things.

  8. nevin Says:

    The rule is terrible and needs to be adjusted. If McCourty is the best special teamer to ever play the game and makes a good play, he would wait for the ball to hit the ground and pummel the returner? I thought the idea behind rules is to protect players and ensure a fair game. This rule needs to be looked at. One more point to make. If a returner signals for a fair catch he should be required to go after the ball and make a catch. No more signaling a fair catch to throw of defenders from making a play on the ball. I sure hope Fisher brings this up to the competition committee. Also, according to the Jacoby Jones TD, the Raiders should be 2-0 with Louis Murphy having 2 TD`s in that game.

  9. Tom Gower Says:

    Nevin,
    Fish said in Monday’s presser he’d like to see the Competition Committee, of which he is co-chair, take a look at it in the offseason. It is an odd sort of rule, and particularly one that’s difficult to train players to obey. Don’t expect to see the “deceptive” fair catch signal addressed, though I would like them to make it more of a point of emphasis on blocking or other obstruction of cover guys after that happens.
    I’ve only watched the internet replay, but Jones’s TD is, in my mind, more of a closer call than Murphy’s TD was. I think it should have been overturned, but can see why the refs ruled otherwise.

  10. Johnathan Says:

    I understand what you are saying Tom, but Jones was moving forward to catch the bobbled punt but it was still considered his opportunity to catch..

  11. Shawn Smith Says:

    I think the rule is way too vague…how do you determine “reasonable opportunity”? If the ball hits the returner’s helmet and bounces 10 feet in the air and 5 yards away from him and the other team catches it out of the air, is that a “reasonable opportunity”?
    I think the rule should state that a fair catch should allow the returner an opportunity to catch the punt…McCourty allowed the returner to catch the punt but the returner didn’t. One man’s “reasonable” is different than another’s.

  12. Tom Gower Says:

    Shawn,
    The refs exercise a fair amount of justification in the enforcement of most every rule, so asking them to judge what constitutes a “reasonable opportunity” in this fairly rare occurrence isn’t out of line. And, as with every case of any sort of official exercising discretion, there are easier calls and harder calls-this, I’d say, was a fairly easy call for them, with the muff being immediately grabbed by a player who was within a couple feet of the returner when the muff happened. Maybe if McCourty lets it go it bounds 10 feet away and Jones clearly couldn’t have caught it, but Jason did grab it and the refs made the call accordingly.

  13. Nevin Says:

    In my opinion Murphy`s catch was the best of bunch. When he caught the ball with both hands and made a “football move” by tucking the ball under one arm while going to the ground. Both the Jones and Rosario “catches” were more questionable in my mind than the Murphy catch. Either way I hope the officials can be more consistent with these calls one way or the other. As for the punt return call there needs to be a re-evaluation of the rule.

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