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Ravens razzle on drop kick didn’t dazzle the league office

The Ravens were informed by the officiating department that Justin Tucker’s onside drop kick was illegal



As the Ravens prepare for their Week 5 game against the Steelers, they have to modify their playbook for an onside kick that occurred in Week 3.

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker was attempting an onside kick by a drop kick, which is legal to do on a kickoff. Tucker faked placing the ball on the tee, flipped the ball into the air, but then aborted the attempt to kick it. He again sent the ball into a Triple Lindy dive and kicked the ball high in the air after it bounced on the ground. The Chiefs fielded the ball on a fair catch.

The Ravens were informed by the officiating department that the kick was illegal. (The Chiefs could have accepted the penalty from the fair-catch spot instead of a rekick.)

This was certainly a nonconventional method of executing the drop kick, and was certainly not how Paddy Driscoll, the NFL player from the 1920s deemed to be the best drop-kicker ever, would have done it. The illustrations above show the technique from the 1939 book The Lost Art of Kicking by Charles Erb. Less than a decade before that book was published, the NFL made the football more oblong, making the skill of a drop kick a lost art.

“We were in contact with the league officiating office all the way through,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday, as reported by Daniel Oyefusi of The Baltimore Sun. “We didn’t just pull it out and decide to try it and sneak it past them.”

The definition of a drop kick is very simple, but it can be open for interpretation in a case like this. Rule 3-18-1-Item 1:

A Drop Kick is a kick by a player who drops the ball and kicks it as, or immediately after, it touches the ground

“We talked to them,” Harbaugh said. “We explained exactly what we were doing and how it was going to go, and they said it was legal, we could do it.” Prior to the game, Harbaugh discussed the kick with the officiating crew, as coaches tend to do with unusual plays they might use. The officials called the league office before the game to confirm any interpretations that senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron had on the kick.  

“They had been in contact with the league office, the officiating office, and they said it was legal,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh believes that Riveron changed his mind after talking with Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay, the president of the Falcons.

“Probably, the competition committee decided they didn’t want to see it, someone on the competition committee — probably the chairman decided with [Riveron] he didn’t want to see it. So now, it’s not legal. So, that’s pretty much how it works and how it worked in this case.”

What seems likely is that Tucker’s drop kick maneuver was discussed with the league office. In their description everything seemed okay, but there is still no practical visual example of what the Ravens were planning. At that, there are very few video examples of any drop kicks that aren’t in black-and-white. Additionally, there is nothing for the officiating crew to really flag on the kick, because it is reasonable to think that the kick was immediately after the ball touches the ground, as stated in the rule. (There was no offside flag on the first aborted attempt, because the players were behind the line when the ball was kicked.)

The objection from the officiating office likely is that a drop kick is long known to be in contact with the ground at the point of the kick, so the bounce gives a kicker the ability to get under the ball like a punt. On a kickoff other than a safety kick, a punt is illegal.

The Triple Lindy toss is still legal, but Tucker must kick the ball when it’s on the ground.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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