The simple rule of thumb on punt returns typically has your punt returner placing his feet at the ten-yard line and anything that goes beyond his head, he let's it go. The likelihood that the punt rolls into the endzone is fairly high, giving you better starting field position from the 20-yard line. There are times in which this rule doesn't always apply. For example, if the punter is well within his maximum range, he's likely going to angle it out of bounds. Or he'll put more air underneath the kick in such a way that when it falls, it either (depending on the surface) bounces straight up or sticks, or rolls back. In those cases, sometimes the risk of letting the football go isn't ideal, instead electing to catch the football at the five-yard line rather than forcing the offense to start at their own one-yard line.
Quan Cosby did that on Sunday. With 35 seconds left in the game, the Falcons punted from Cincinnati's 36-yard line, forcing Cosby to call a fair catch at the Bengals four-yard line. Falcons players were positioned behind Cosby by the time he made the catch. Essentially, if Cosby lets the football go, he runs the risk of allowing the football to be downed at the one-yard line. Furthermore, the time it took from the punt until Cosby's catch lasted eight seconds. If he lets that roll, you could easily tack on another 3-5 seconds, depending on how quickly the referees call it a dead ball.
Because he fair caught the punt at the four-yard line, fans are giving Cosby a hard time on Twitter, to which Cosby said:
Guess I have to educate! Basically we traded 10/15 yards for 10 secs that would have run off if the ball would have hit the ground!
In the end, the play was insignificant. Whether the Bengals would have an additional 5-10 seconds from their own four-yard line, or only 20 seconds from the 20-yard line, the team had no time outs. Anyway, if the same sequence of events happens, then Andre Caldwell catches a pass and cuts inside either thinking that it was a totally awesome thing to do, or we're still playing by college rules. But really, fans giving Cosby a hard time for that? We're better than that, as we're seeing in the past 24 hours.