A touchdown may be awarded by the referee in the NFL as a punishment for a "palpably unjust act," such as a player coming off the bench during a play and tackling the runner who would have scored otherwise. The rule is found in Article 78 of the rules, which states: "A touchdown can be scored by the opposition [= team that does not possess the ball] if a foul by a player or member of the coaching staff reduces the number of players on the field below the required minimum for either team." This rule was adopted in response to a situation where a player came off the bench in the final minute of play and ran down a loose ball carrier who had just gained several yards on a punt return.
In addition, since the 1970s, when National Football League (NFL) teams began substituting players at will during games, some opponents have been able to score touchdowns this way by using various formations on special plays called "drives". For example, one drive might include five players lined up at the line of scrimmage with two tight ends off the side and one running back behind the center, while another drive could feature four wide receivers and one running back, with each player performing a different function on the play.
When a player has legal control of the ball and the ball touches or travels over the imaginary vertical plane over the opposing team's goal line, he or she scores a touchdown. The ball can be touched by any part of the body with the exception of the hands (for throwing) and feet (for kicking).
The type of score depends on where the ball is when it crosses the goal line. If the ball is in play and still in the field of action, it is a touchdown. If the ball is out of bounds anywhere on the field, it is a touchback. Otherwise, it is a safety.
There are two ways to score a touchdown: a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown. A rushing touchdown is scored when you run the ball into the end zone. You get a point for every yard you rush forward. A passing touchdown is also scored when the quarterback throws the ball into the end zone. You get six points for this type of touchdown.
In order for a touchdown to be valid, the offensive team must advance the ball into the end zone (or try). If they do not, the opposition can file a foul return during their own subsequent possession.
A touchdown can be scored by special teams on a kickoff or punt return, or on a return after a failed or blocked field goal attempt or blocked punt. In summary, every play in which a player lawfully carries the ball beyond the goal line results in a touchdown, regardless of how he takes possession. The only exception is when the player is touched down at the 1-yard line by an opponent's player (see below).
A player can also score a touchdown by returning a punt or kickoff deep into enemy territory. This type of touchdown is called a return touchdown.
Only players who have carried the ball past the 1-yard line can score a return touchdown. If a player is brought down inside the 1-yard line by an opponent's player, he will lose yardage and the team that brings him down gets the ball at the 1-yard line. This rule is in place to prevent return men from scoring all day long by kicking out at the 1-yard line until they get enough returns for a touchdown. Return men still have the opportunity to score during their own half of the field, but cannot return touchdowns until they reach the end zone.
Returning teams that are moving downfield may elect to kick off rather than risk a fair catch.
A touchdown is scored when a member of the kicking team recovers a kickoff in the end zone. In college football, a fair catch by the receiving team inside its own 25-yard line is termed a kickoff. Unless it is a successful field goal, any kicked ball that crosses the plane of the goal line is a field goal in high school football. In college football, a successful kick at least 20 yards beyond the opponent's 20-yard line constitutes a safety.
In college football, there is no rule that requires a player who touches the ball on the kickoff to be awarded possession. However, most schools use some form of the "kickoff return" to reward players for their effort on the play and to give the offense another opportunity to score. If the offensive team advances the ball past its own 30-yard line, a new kickoff will be started from the spot where the last one was stopped.
Players are allowed to touch the ball on the kickoff; however, they must maintain control of it until it has been advanced past his or her own 45-yard line. If a player loses control of the ball before reaching the end zone, then it is considered a fumble and placed at the spot it was found if it is recovered by the opposing team. Otherwise, the player is given credit for the touchdown.
There have been many notable examples of players scoring touchdowns after recovering kickoffs.
In an effort to reduce celebrations, the NFL revised its rules in 2006 to include an automatic 15-yard penalty for any player who leaves his feet or utilizes a prop, such as a towel, the goal post or post base, or, more precisely, the football. The new rule was created to prevent players from avoiding or delaying contact by jumping into each other's arms or pats on the back.
Prior to the revision, there was no specific penalty listed for celebrants who jumped into their own fans' seats. However, since those seats are part of the playing field and therefore constitute physical contact, many officials ruled that players were offside if they left their feet before touching the ground.
The new rule was designed to remove some of the strategy from the act of celebrating a touchdown, but it has been criticized for being too soft. Many believe that players should be able to decide for themselves what role they want to play on offense and defense after scoring a touchdown. Some fans also complain that the new rule prevents them from having fun by making them feel uncomfortable about clapping for others if they leave their feet first.
The new rule was adopted to help prevent injuries due to excessive enthusiasm by players. Prior to the revision, several players had suffered broken bones when opponents tackled them while airborne.
The receiving team is penalized 15 yards if the receiver initiates contact with any member of the kicking team after delivering a fair catch signal but before the ball is touched by any player. A fair catch has been made by several types of football developed from particular English school football games of the nineteenth century. They include drop-back yardage offense (used by most college teams), sweep-off tackle offense (used by some high school teams), and wild-cat offense (used primarily by college teams).
The rule was created to protect defensive players from being injured by careless or unwarranted tackles after a fair catch. Before the rule, receivers could often be stopped by a big hit from behind at the point of delivery. Since fair catches are usually followed by quick handoffs, it is important that the quarterback release the ball quickly so that his protection can get into position.
There are two ways for a receiver to initiate contact with an opposing player after he has delivered a fair catch: a forward jump with both feet or a lateral jump. A forward jump brings the receiver inbounds, while a lateral jump does not. Contact between a receiver who has made a fair catch and an opponent results in a foul. The referee will call "fair catch," and then place him on the side opposite the foul. If a defender makes contact with the receiver after he has made a fair catch, the penalty is 15 yards.