Free-kick excitement at end of half falls short with Phil Dawson’s failed attempt

Eric Edholm
September 27, 2013

Do you know the NFL's free-kick rule? If you were watching the end of the first half of Thursday's game between the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams, you got a tutorial. You just didn't see history being made.

The rule is an obscure one. Any team that fair catches a punt then can subsequently attempt a free kick, like a kickoff, that counts for three points if it goes through the uprights. The best part? The defense can't rush the kick.

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That exact scenario played out at the end of the first half when the Rams couldn't run the clock out as the 49ers used all their timeouts. When Kyle Williams fair caught the ball at the San Francisco 39-yard line, it appeared that Jim Harbaugh would then send out Colin Kaepernick for a final Hail Mary heave with only seconds remaining on the clock.

Not so fast!

The sneaky, obscure-rule-loving Harbaugh instead sent out kicker Phil Dawson for what would have been double history.

The Chargers’ Ray Wersching is believed to be the last person in league history to successfully make a free kick, hitting a 45-yarder against the Buffalo Bills in 1976, although many have attempted them over the years, including Neil Rackers in 2008.

But Dawson's 71-yard kick would have bested the all-time long mark of 63 by nearly a whole first down. Sadly, it went way left. At least, it was a far more worthwhile attempt than Rackers' was.

Maybe it was ill-conceived. Dawson, after all, had missed a 53-yard "normal" field goal earlier in the game and is off to a tough start this season, having missed as many kicks as he's made since leaving the Cleveland Browns.

Oh well. If you are a football geek, it was exciting during the buildup.

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