The Punt Rules of a Football Game
Several times during a game, you see the punt returner stand and simply catch the ball. He doesn’t run. In this case, he’s probably calling for a fair catch.
To signal for a fair catch, the player who’s preparing to receive the punt must clearly extend his arm over his head and then wave it from side to side to let the officials and the defensive players know that he doesn’t plan to run with the ball after catching it.
After signaling for a fair catch, the punt returner can’t advance the ball.
If the defenders tackle the returner after he signals a fair catch, the kicking team incurs a 15-yard penalty.
However, the player signaling for a fair catch isn’t obligated to catch the ball. His only worry is not to touch the ball because if he does so without catching it, the loose ball is treated like a fumble, and the other team can recover it. After he touches it or loses control and the ball hits the ground, either team is allowed to recover the ball.
If the returner muffs a kick, or fails to gain possession, the punting team may not advance the ball if they recover it. If the returner gains possession and then fumbles, however, the punting team may advance the ball.