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That Punt Hung In The Air Forever

11:12 AM EST on January 23, 2022

The 49ers and Packers look around for the ball after a punt block
Image: Fox Sports

No one had any idea where the ball was. Where was it going to land? Seriously. When the 49ers’ Jordan Willis blocked a Corey Bojorquez punt, the ball went high into the air. It seemed to hang forever as players on both teams struggled to figure out where the ball was. It ruled.

A blocked punt is one of the rarest plays in football. Teams do not block many punts. (The Chiefs hold the NFL record for a season, with six, in 1990.) It makes sense: Not only is it hard to block a punt, teams often set up for punt returns instead of going for the block. An upback (also called a personal protector) usually prevents any rusher who gets past the line from getting to the punter—who is about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, anyway, when he begins his kick.

Punt blocks don’t often go really high in the air. I cannot think of one other than yesterday’s. Often a blocked punt goes right back into the ground; when it’s tipped into the air it sometimes goes forward. The Cowboys blocked a Broncos punt earlier this season; it went past the line of scrimmage, was touched by the Cowboys, and recovered by the Broncos. (A tipped punt that goes past the line of scrimmage is still considered a punt, so if the receiving team touches it, it’s a live ball.) But last night, the ball went high into the air—and nobody had any idea where it was. It ruled!

The 49ers upset the Packers, 13–10, yesterday, in part because they not only blocked that punt but returned it for a touchdown. There was a moment where time seemed to stop. Where was the ball going to land? Incredibly, when it hit the ground, there were seven 49ers players closer to the ball than anyone on the Packers.

And, yeah, the 49ers ended up winning on a field goal at the gun. That’s common! This stat is a decade old, but teams that block a punt win 90 percent of the time.

“We thought our special teams had an advantage in this game,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We thought they had an opportunity to possibly win us the game.” Does it still count as a prediction if you said it postgame? Whatever. They won. It counts.

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