How Justin Tucker Can Hit From 70

All it takes is one obscure part of the rulebook for Tucker to make an even longer field goal

You may have heard that Justin Tucker hit a 66-yard field goal against the Detroit Lions at the end of September.

People were very quick to say that Tucker’s record will never be broken. One YouTube channel went out of their way to use science to declare that Tucker’s 66-yard record was scientifically impossible.

Yet, many people realize that Tucker can, in fact, kick the ball through the uprights from farther away . There is video evidence of this.

Now admittedly, hitting from 70 yards in Denver or hitting from 75 yards in Orlando during practice is not the same as kicking in game conditions. Both of these successful attempts were made off of a tee and not with a holder. The lack of a defense on the line of scrimmage trying to block the kick gives him a different angle that he can attempt the kick. And even that isn’t a panacea; Tucker attempted a 67-yard field goal at the 2014 Pro Bowl and came up just short.

Even in that scenario, it wasn’t the optimal conditions for Tucker. First off, Tucker had a different holder than he normally has. The holder for this kick was then-Dolphins punter Brandon Hunter instead of Ravens punter Sam Koch, who has been Tucker’s holder for his entire NFL career.

The second issue here is elevation and climate. Tucker’s 67-yard attempt at the Pro Bowl was at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, which is 36 feet above sea level. The climate in Honolulu, of course, is tropical and full of thick humid air. That makes kicking the ball even more challenging.

Tucker’s two-longest kicks to date have been in Detroit, both to win the game. It is probably not coincidental that the kicks have come at Ford Field. For one, the climate controlled environment certainly helps. As does the FieldTurf surface. But Ford Field’s playing surface is roughly 550 or so feet above sea level. That actually puts it in the top half of NFL playing surfaces in elevation.

If Tucker were to make a field goal during a game, there are realistically three stadiums that he are most likely to do it:

  • Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas (2,001 feet)

  • Empower Field at Mile High, Denver (5,280 feet)

  • Estadio Azteca, Mexico City (7,200 feet)

Ironically, the Ravens have already played in Las Vegas and Denver this year. But Tucker didn’t get an opportunity for long field goals in either. He hit from 40 and 47 in Las Vegas, and then 40, 46, and 20 in Denver.

There was one point early in the game before the Ravens took control where I thought Ravens Coach John Harbaugh might be thinking about a long bomb from Tucker. It would have been about a 71-yard kick, but he wisely decided against it. There is no reason to take the chance and turn the ball over at that juncture to give the other team excellent field position. Most ridiculously long field goal attempts come at the end of the half. like this Sebastian Janikowski attempt from 76(!).

The Ravens have not yet played a game in Mexico City, so we don’t know what he could do with the even thinner air there.

That leaves, realistically, only one way for Tucker to hit from 70 or more. The Fair Catch Kick.

It is an obscure and not often used rule, but the NFL Rulebook states that if a player makes a fair catch on a kickoff or a punt, the team has the opportunity to make a field goal attempt from the spot of the fair catch. Hence the name Fair Catch Kick.

The rules of a Fair Catch Kick, however, are much more like those of a kickoff than a field goal attempt:

From the NFL Rulebook:

The rules for a field-goal attempt from scrimmage apply to a field-goal attempt following a Fair Catch (a Fair-Catch Kick).

Exceptions:

The fair-catch kick line for the kicking team is the yard line through the most forward point from which the ball is kicked.

The fair-catch kick line for the receiving team is the yard line 10 yards in advance of the kicking team’s fair-catch kick line.

Note: Though a fair-catch kick is not a free kick, the rules for a free-kick formation apply (6-1-3). However, the kicking team cannot possess the ball unless it has first been touched or possessed by the receivers.

And this is what the a Fair Catch Kick actually looks like.

The likelihood of Tucker even getting an attempt like this is still very slim. There have only been five attempts in the 21st Century, and nobody has made one since 1976. However, this remains the one realistic chance that Tucker has of getting a good shot at a field goal of 70 yards or beyond.

I have no doubt that Justin Tucker has the leg to hit from 70-yards in game conditions. He just needs the right opportunity to do so. The Fair Catch Kick is his best shot to do it.