Phil Dawson (right) is just 3-for-6 on field goals this season. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
The San Francisco 49ers took advantage of a rarely-used NFL rule Thursday night to attempt an uncontested 71-yard field goal against St. Louis.
With time winding down in the first half, Kyle Williams fair caught a St. Louis punt at his own 39. That decision gave the 49ers an opportunity to try a "free kick" -- a field-goal attempt that cannot be rushed by the defense. Such a play is only allowed after a fair catch occurs.
Phil Dawson misfired badly on the try (video below), with his kick sailing well wide left and coming up short. It was fielded by the Rams' Austin Pettis nine yards deep in the end zone, and he was then allowed to return it as if on a kickoff.
There were a couple of other rules specific to the free kick that were in play here. First off, the clock starts rolling as soon as the ball is kicked; on a kickoff, where the clock starts when the ball is fielded or brought out of the end zone.
Also, had Pettis let the ball land untouched, the Rams would have taken over possession at the spot of the kick -- in this case, the San Francisco 39, which may have allowed St. Louis to attempt a field goal of its own before halftime.
Give some credit to the NFL Network's Brad Nessler, who immediately brought up the possibility of a free kick after St. Louis' punt. The play itself almost never happens -- Neil Rackers attempted one (and missed horribly) in 2008, and Green Bay's Mason Crosby also failed later that same season. No one has actually hit a free-kick field goal since 1968.