There is such a thing as a free kick field goal in football. It's almost never used, because the situation where somebody might attempt one is so incredibly rare and almost always bound to end in failure, but we got a try Thursday night, as Phil Dawson got to try a 71-yarder with the half expiring.
Here's what it looked like:
(As you'd expect, the 71-yarder was short.)
So, in case you're wondering: what?!?!?!?! An explanation: basically, you have two options when your team makes a fair catch. You can either take possession of the ball on offense, or you can attempt a field goal from the spot where the ball was caught. Not from seven yards behind where the ball was caught, but where the player made the catch. So the teams line up like it's a kickoff, but somebody holds, and the other team tries to return if the kick is short. Here's the official NFL rules.
The only possible reason that you'd rather attempt a field goal than take possession is with very little time left in a half, and if a punt doesn't go far enough, there's a slight possibility your kicker can make the kick. The Niners decided to give it a go.
There have only been 21 free kicks attempted in NFL history, and only three since 1990. Dawson doesn't have to feel bad about missing. There hasn't been a successful attempt since Ray Wersching made a 45-yarder entering halftime in a Bills-Chargers game in 1976.