A punt is a play in American football and Canadian football in which the football is kicked downfield to the opposing team. In contrast, a drop punt in Australian rules football is a precise kick downfield, usually to a player on the same team. The similarity in skills, frequency of use, and precision of kicking have led to Aussie Rules players being recruited as American football punters.
If an offensive team has the ball too far away from the end zone to attempt a field goal, is facing their final down (fourth down in American football or third down in Canadian football) and given the current game situation it is too far away from the first down marker to warrant the risk of losing possession at or near the current line of scrimmage then they may choose to punt the ball in an attempt to maximize the change in field position prior to the change of possession. When the offense is within the 35 yard line, and the head coach opts to call a punt rather than attempt a field goal, it is referred to as a pooch kick, since the punter must kick a very short, high punt out of bounds to try to avoid a touchback.
In the formation just before the snap, the punter usually lines up 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage (this can include lining up in the end zone). An American football punter must shorten this distance if needed to avoid being on or behind the end line. Since Canadian football's endzone is twice as long (20 yards) a Canadian football punter can always take the snap from the usual distance, however Canadian football teams will often elect to concede a safety as opposed to kicking the ball from inside or very close to their own end zone.
This involves kicking the ball from a standing position after it has been snapped (usually a long snap). The purpose is to increase the distance that the opposing team must advance the ball in order to score a touchdown or a field goal. A badly punted ball that is not touched by the return team is referred to as a shank.
In Rugby football codes, the ball may be punted in open play by any player in order to gain field position, or a short-high punt known as an up and under kick in an attempt to disrupt the defensive line.
In American football, the ball changes possession to the other team once the receiving team touches the ball. In Canadian football, possession does not change until the receiving team establishes possession; in that game, the punter or teammates behind him can recover their own punt (onside kick).
In American football, no player from the kicking team is allowed to be the first player to touch the ball after it has been punted past the line of scrimmage. If this occurs, it is a form of illegal touching called "first touching"; the play is immediately dead, and the receiving team receives the ball at the spot of the illegal touch (though this is subject to isolated exceptions). It should be noted that this is often not considered to be detrimental to the team committing the "illegal touching"—in fact, it is actually a fairly common occurrence in American football, sometimes spectacularly so when a player on the kicking team wishes to make contact with the ball before it enters the endzone and is thus ruled as a touchback. Since there is no further yardage penalty awarded, commentators will simply say that the team committing the "illegal touching" has "downed the ball."
Once a player from the receiving team has touched the ball, it is considered in play unless the receiver has signaled (by extending one arm above his head and waving it side to side) for a fair catch, in which case the play is dead once the catch is made. The result of a typical punt, barring any penalties or extraordinary circumstances is a first down for the receiving team at the spot where:
If the resulting spot is in the end zone, the play is a touchback, and the ball is spotted at the receiving team's 20 yard line. An exception in American football is that if a ball is allowed to land, and enters the end zone at any point, even if it does not rest there, the play is a touchback. However, if the same happens in Canada, the ball remains in play until it is downed by a player on either team or is run out of the end zone. If a member of the receiving team downs it in the end zone, a single is awarded to the kicking team. If the punter or any other member of the kicking team level or behind the punter at the time of the kick downs it in the end zone, the kicking team scores a touchdown. If an offside player touches it first, standard no yards penalties are enforced from 10 yard line of the receiving team.
There is no fair catch in Canadian rules, but offside players of the kicking team (those in front of the punter when the ball is kicked) must not be first to touch the ball and must be at least five yards from the ball when it is first touched by the receiving team. Violation of this rule is a 5-(if the ball first bounces) or 15-yard (if the ball is illegally touched or caught without bouncing) penalty for "no yards".
In Canadian football, a play in which a kicked ball enters the end zone and is not returned by the receiving team earns the kicking team one point, called a single or rouge. The receiving team then takes possession at its own 35-yard line.
Canadian rules also allow a punt when the punter is not behind the line of scrimmage, which is not permitted in American rules. This tactic (termed an "open-field kick" in the rule book) is usually reserved for last-second desperation: for example, a player, after receiving a forward pass with no time left on the clock and with no hope of evading tacklers, may punt the ball in the hope that it will score a single or be recovered by an onside teammate. After recovering a ball kicked by the other team a player can also punt out of his own end zone in order to avoid a single. On one occasion in the CFL, a last-second missed field goal attempt was followed by three punts, all on one play, as the teams alternately tried to avoid a single and score a single.
In both codes, if the receiving team drops the ball or touches the ball but does not catch it then it is considered a "muff" and may be recovered by either team. The defensive team may also attempt to block the punt, by rushing the punter instead of or in addition to trying to return the punt. If the receiving team succeeds in blocking the punt and the ball is touched in or behind the neutral zone, it is a free ball, and either team can advance it (although if the punt were being attempted on the fourth down in American football, the kicking team must advance the ball at least as far as the line to gain upon recovering it or the ball will go "over on downs" to the receiving team). In the Canadian game, intentionally kicking the ball is considered breaking the continuity of downs. The team to recover the ball, in this instance, would have a first down at the point where forward progress was halted, regardless of the first down line. If the kicked ball, despite being touched by the receiving team, nonetheless crosses the line of scrimmage on its own impetus, it is considered to have been "partially blocked" and the same rules apply as if it had not been blocked. A kicked ball that is blocked or not blocked, and fails to cross the neutral zone is a live ball. It is as if the punt never happened. Either team may recover the ball and advance it. The offensive team may recover the ball and throw a forward pass or punt once again. If the rushing team fails to touch the ball but contacts the punter, this is a foul whose penalty can be either five yards or fifteen yards and an automatic first down for the punting team depending upon the severity of the contact. If the rushing team succeeds in touching the kicked ball in or behind the neutral zone, this foul is not enforceable.
In Canadian football, the punt receiver may punt the ball back to the kicking team--who may punt the ball back, and so on. This sequence of events almost never occurs, and when it does, the purpose is to avoid (or score) a game-winning or -tying single on the final play of regulation time (or, possibly, of the half).
Usually, teams will attempt a fake punt only in desperate situations: to keep a drive alive (particularly if a team is behind by one or more touchdowns and the game has very little time left), or to exploit a weakness in an opposing team's defense.
The high risk and low success rate of "fake punts", combined with the need to maintain an element of surprise when the play is actually called, explains why this play is seldom seen.
One of the most famous fake punts was by Gary Reasons during the _New_York_Giants_15.2C_San_Francisco_49ers_13 against the San Francisco 49ers, in which he rushed for 30 yards on a fourth down conversion via a direct snap to him instead of the punter, Sean Landeta, which was a critical difference in a 15-13 victory. The Giants went on to win Super Bowl XXV.
A punt in Rugby union can be contrasted with a drop kick which is taken at a 22-meter dropout, kickoff, or drop-goal attempt. The main purpose of the punt is usually a bid to gain field position, where the ball is kicked by any player (but usually by back-line players such as scrum-half, fly-half or fullback) up the field and out of bounds (in touch), forcing a lineout contest. The lineout is usually taken in the same position where the ball went out of play, however, the ball must make contact with the ground before leaving the field or the lineout is taken from the position of the ball when it was kicked instead, unless the kicker was inside his own 22-meter line, or the kick was taken from a penalty where the ball is allowed to leave play without bouncing. The other main type of punt is known as the up and under kick and launches the ball high into the air, but without traveling far along the field of play. The purpose of this kind of kick is to disrupt the defensive line (who will scramble in attempt to retrieve the ball) while attempting to retrieve the ball for one's own team. However, the up and under is used sparingly due to the risk of losing possession without gaining field position.
In Rugby union, a team can elect one of four ways to take a penalty, being to run with the ball, take a scrum, kick at goal, or punt the ball. Where the team chooses to punt the ball, the punter may kick the ball out of bounds without making contact with the ground first, and the throw at the lineout is awarded to the non-infringing team.