The last three weeks, San Francisco 49ers punter Andy Lee has twice found himself run into by an opposing defender after he punter the ball. The GIF above comes from last week's game against the New York Giants. Two weeks prior, something similar happened against the St. Louis Rams. Here is a GIF of that play:
In the Giants game, Lee punts the ball and the defender rolls under his leg, taking out his plant leg. In the Rams game, the defender tries to stop himself, but basically runs into the side of Lee after the punt.
The NFL rulebook offers very specific guidance into what constitutes running into the kicker. Under Rule 12, Section 2, Article 10, a foul for running into the kicker is drawn when a defender (a) contacts the kicking foot of the kicker, even if the kicker is airborne when the contact occurs; or (b) slides under the kicker, preventing him from returning both feet to the ground. Part a appears to apply to the Rams punt, while part b would appear to apply to the Giants game.
There are some exceptions to the rule. It will not be a penalty if it:
(a) is incidental to and occurs after the defender has touched the kick in flight;
(b) is caused by the kicker's own motions;
(c) occurs during a quick kick or a rugby-style kick;
(d) occurs during or after a run behind the line;
(e) occurs after the kicker recovers a loose ball on the ground; or
(f) occurs because a defender is pushed or blocked (causing a change of direction) into the kicker; or
(g) is the result of a foul by an opponent
I'm looking through these exceptions and finding it hard that a ref would see either of the plays above and instinctively not throw a flag. I don't see this being incidental contact, and I don't see how this could have been caused by Lee's own motions. Exceptions c, d, e and g do not appear to apply. That leaves exception f. In the Giants GIF, does Kyle Nelson block or push the defender into Lee? That's the only possibility I can see. As for the Rams GIF, there is nobody to push the defender into Lee.
The penalty for running into the kicker is five yards, but no automatic first down. In the Rams game, this would have resulted in a 4th and 2 at the 49ers 48. Lee's punt was a touchback, so the 49ers would have re-punted. The Rams did not score, but had the Rams been pinned further back, who knows what might happen.
In the Giants game, the non-penalty occurred on 4th and 2, late in the fourth quarter. The 49ers did force a four and out on what would be the Giants final drive. However, had the penalty been called, the 49ers would have taken a knee to end the game, as the Giants were out of timeouts. Again, it ended up not hurting the 49ers, but that's no excuse not to be calling these things.