It is something rarely seen in the NFL today, a recovered onside kick. Often used late in the game when giving the ball back to the opposing offense is not an option, teams can try for an onside kick.
More often than not the onside kicks are unsuccessful, however, as we saw with Justin Tucker's onside kick today against Cleveland, it can be done. So far in the 2021 NFL season, just six onside kicks have been recovered out of 39 attempts.
Austin Seibert from the Detroit Lions had two of his onside kicks recovered with Ka'imi Fairbairn, Justin Tucker, Brandon McManus and Riley Dixon, all with one each. It is a low percentage play viewed as a last resort for a team's attempt to tie or win a game late in the fourth quarter.
What are NFL onside kick rules?
The reason onside kicks are so difficult to recover is because of the rules implemented by the NFL. First the kick must be a free kick. Then the kick HAS to travel at least ten yards in front of the kicking teams line and the kicking team cannot touch or interfere with a recovery attempt by the opposing team to catch the ball.
The team kicking the ball can recover and keep possession of the football but cannot advance it. Because of the collisions that resulted from onside kicks, this offseason, the NFL put in a new rule to make the recovery safer for both sides. Along with trying to make kick recoveries easier as well.
The new rule has limited the set amount of defenders allowed in what is called the "setup zone" to nine players for the onside kick. The setup zone is the area between the Kick-off return unit's line (normally the 45-yard line) and the receiving team's own 40 yard line, which gives a total distance of 15 yards between players.
Last season, of 71 onside kick attempts, only three were recovered which equates to only four percent, hence the rule change. While the change certainly seems to have made a difference, as this year already five onside kicks have been recovered, which is two more than last year, it is still hard to do in the NFL.
Justin Tucker and the Baltimore Ravens recovered an onside kick against the Cleveland Browns but it is a rarity. The onside kick is essentially a Hail mary for team's who need the ball back in a hurry and when it does come off it is a thing of beauty for the NFL.
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