During the Chiefs at Patriots Thursday Night Football game, the Chiefs lined up to field a punt at 2:55 in the 2nd quarter. Both Chiefs return men, Tyreek Hill and De’Anthony Thomas, were deep to receive the punt. After the kick, Hill appeared signaled for a fair catch while Thomas attempted to catch and return it.
Rule 10-2-3(a)(3) states:
If the ball is caught or recovered by a teammate who did not make a valid fair-catch signal, the ball is dead immediately, but it is not a fair catch. The ball will next be put in play by a snap by the receiving team at the dead-ball spot (or at the succeeding spot after enforcement of any applicable penalties).
In addition to this, if the punt returner bobbles the catch after the fair-catch signal, he must still be given an opportunity to secure it before touching the ground and cannot be interfered with. Also, if he recovers the ball after it strikes the ground, it is immediately a dead ball, but it is not a fair catch.
During the return, there was also a penalty for holding by the Chiefs. With the dead-ball spot declared that the Chiefs 17-yard line, a 10-yard penalty turns into a 9-yard penalty with the half-distance penalty enforcement. Thomas is not flagged for delay of game for his dead-ball return since it wasn’t a fair catch.
During the play, the whistle was blown a bit prematurely signaling the end of the down while Anthony was in the process of trying to the control the catch, narrowly missing a dropped muffed punt and an opportunity for the Patriots to try to recover it. If the Patriots had recovered the muffed punt legally, the quick whistle would not have affected the play, as the ball is dead when the kicking team recovers a muffed punt.