The blue “flags” you sometimes see thrown onto the field during NFL games are actually blue bean bags. In short, these bean bags are used to mark a change in possession. These bags are thrown at the location the change of possession occurred. This allows the referees to have the location marked.
Why Do The Refs Need To Mark This Location?
The reason referees mark the change of possession location is so they have an area on the field to assess penalties from.
When committing a penalty on a change of possession the penalty can be assessed at two spots. It can be at the spot of the foul or at the spot in which the team assumed possession. The “blue flag” or bean bag is used to accurately mark the area in which the change of possession occurred.
If a gunner is held prior to the punt returner catching the ball there is going to be a holding call against the receiving team. Since this happened prior to the punt returner catching the ball. The penalty will be assessed from the point in which the receiving team took possession. AKA the location of the blue bean bag.
Now say the punt returner catches his ball and halfway through his return one of his blockers commits a hold. Since the punt returner had already accumulated some yards on his return the penalty will be assessed at the spot of the foul since it did not have any effect on the yards he gained previously.
What Plays Require A Blue Bean Bag
The easiest way to think about which plays require this bean bag to be thrown is that it happens any time the ball changes possession.
This means every time the ball changes possession a bean bag will be thrown. The only instance in which it is not thrown is when the player does not possess the ball in the field of play.
Remember the bean bag is meant to mark the location on the field in which the change of possession occurred. If it is a punt that goes right through the end zone then the referee will not have to throw his bean bag.
All the plays that require a bean bag if the player catches the ball in bounds are as follows:
- Fumble Recovery
- Punt Return
- Kick Return
- Field Goal Return
Remember all of these plays involve a change of possession. This is the easiest way to remember when and where refs will throw “blue flags” onto the field.