When watching a football game, you might see refs throw a yellow flag after a kick. Chances are if you see a flag on a kick then it’s on a defensive player hitting the kicker. So what exactly is a roughing the kicker penalty? Find out more below!
What is the Roughing the Kicker Penalty?
Roughing or running into the kicker are two penalties that happen whenever a defensive player runs into the kicker or punter during a kicking play. Often, a roughing the kicker penalty occurs if contacting the kicker is severe.
If a player runs or slides into the kicker or punter’s planted foot while they’re kicking a ball, a roughing the kicker penalty occurs. Similarly, if the kicker returns both feet to the ground, and the player slides into or makes contact with both legs in a way that an official judge as “severe,” the player can also receive a roughing the kicker penalty. Since the holder is a defenseless player, protections will extend to him during field goal attempts.
Difference Between Running and Roughing the Kicker?
Running into the kicker is seen as less severe when you compare it to roughing the kicker. If a defensive player hits a kicker’s swinging leg, the play will count as running into the kicker. Similarly, the penalty downgrades if the player slides into the kicker, so they can’t return both feet to the ground.
Roughing the kicker and running into the kicker each have different punishments. Running into the kicker is a less severe penalty and is a 5-yard loss for the team. It’s one of the few penalties that doesn’t come with an automatic first down, like an offside call.
Meanwhile, roughing the kicker, like other well-known calls (such as pass interference, illegal use of hands, or a facemask), is a personal foul, a 15-yard penalty, and an automatic first down for the kicking team.
When Can the Defense Make Legal Contact with the Kicker?
There are some circumstances where contact with the kicker doesn’t automatically draw a roughing kicker penalty. For example, the punishment doesn’t occur if the contact is incidental between the two players or after the defender tries to swat down or tip the ball. Similarly, there is no penalty if the contact occurs due to the kicker’s motions or during a rugby-style kick.
Blockers don’t have to worry about penalties if someone shoves them into the Kicker or if a foul occurs by the kicking team that causes the contact. Finally, the opposing team can legally hit if the kicker goes to the ground to recover a loose ball.
It’s important to know that even if a contact seems to be incidental or legal, the officiating team has discretion when awarding penalties due to contact with the kicker or holder. The NFL rulebook states explicitly, “when in doubt, it is a foul for roughing the kicker.” This rule means that the referees on the field have the right to decide whether or not contact with a kicker was intentional. The same goes with issuing a 5 yard or 15-yard penalty on the play.
What is the History of Roughing the Kicker?
Most football historians recognize the first use of roughing the kicker in 1914. Three years later, the league started issuing penalties for illegal contact made to the kicker.
Roughing the kicker has been an influential call in several key football games. One of the most well-known games is the 2003 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Nashville Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers, otherwise known as the “Music City Mulligan.” The game was incredibly close and went into overtime after four quarters. The Titans won the coin toss and quickly marched down the field, ending their drive on the Steelers’ 13th-yard line.
The Titan’s kicker, Joe Nedney, kicked a field goal first, but the Steelers’ coach called a timeout. Nedney missed the next place kick, but the Steelers’ cornerback, DeWayne Washington, ran into him, resulting in a running into the kicker penalty. On his third attempt, Nedney made another successful field goal through the uprights at the end of the zone to score 3 points and end the game 34-31.
Running into the kicker was one of the first controversial calls during Super Bowl 49 when the Seattle Seahawks’ Jeron Johnson ran into the planted leg of New England Patriots punter Ryan Allen. Since Johnson ran into Allen’s planted leg, the call should have been roughing the kicker penalty, earning the Patriots a 15-yard advancement and a first down. Instead, the referees called running into the kicker, forcing the Patriots to re-attempt the punt on the next play.
Conclusion About Roughing the Kicker
In summary, roughing the kicker is a personal foul in a football game. This penalty aims to keep the kicker safe while penalizing the offender with a loss in yards. There are several exceptions to the rule, however. Some examples include allowance for incidental contact and tackles made when kickers attempt to recover a loose ball. Finally, fans must remember that the officiating team always has discretion on the call.
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