Difference Between Touchdowns and Field Goals

The Difference Between Touchdowns and Field Goals

Hey there, gridiron enthusiasts! Whether you’re a seasoned fan or just getting into the groove of football, understanding the scoring system is crucial to fully appreciating the game.

Today, we’ll delve into two of the primary scoring methods: touchdowns and field goals.

I’ll explain the difference between the two scoring methods along with the basic strategy involved in why teams may attempt to go for one or the other. In just a few minutes, you’ll be ready to second guess the decisions made by your coach – a favorite pastime of almost all football fans!

Understanding the Basics

Ah, the sweet taste of scoring in football! But how exactly do teams put points on the board? Let’s break it down:

Definition of a Touchdown

A touchdown is like the crown jewel in a game of football. Plus, a touchdown also gives the team an opportunity to go for an extra point or a two-point conversion (more on those in a second).

Here’s how it goes down:

  1. Scoring: A touchdown is scored when a player carries the ball across the opponent’s goal line or catches the ball in the opponent’s end zone.
  2. Points Awarded: Touchdowns are the big earners, raking in a solid 6 points for the team.

Definition of a Field Goal

Now let’s talk about the underdog, the field goal:

  1. Scoring: A field goal is scored when the ball is kicked through the uprights of the opponent’s goalpost.
  2. Points Awarded: Field goals are less glamorous, but hey, 3 points can make or break a game!

Extra Points and Two-Point Conversions

Touchdowns are certainly cause for celebration, but the scoring doesn’t stop there. After a touchdown, teams have the opportunity to earn additional points through either an extra point or a two-point conversion.

Let’s break down these post-touchdown scoring opportunities:

Extra Point (Point After Touchdown – PAT)

Once a touchdown lights up the scoreboard, teams have a shot at an extra point. Here’s how it rolls:

  1. Execution: The ball is placed on the opponent’s 15-yard line*, and the kicker attempts to send it through the uprights.
  2. Points Awarded: Successfully sailing the ball between the uprights earns the team 1 additional point, bringing the total potential score from a touchdown play to 7 points.

*This is NFL rules. College Extra Points are lined up at the 3-yard line regardless of whether they choose to kick or go for 2.

Two-Point Conversion

For those willing to gamble a bit, the two-point conversion offers a chance at doubling the post-touchdown bonus. Here’s the nitty-gritty:

  1. Execution: Instead of kicking for an extra point, the team tries to get the ball into the end zone once more from the opponent’s 2-yard line.
  2. Points Awarded: Achieving this feat earns the team 2 additional points, making the total potential score from a touchdown play 8 points.

Strategic Decisions

The choice between an extra point and a two-point conversion is another layer of strategy in the game of football:

  1. Risk vs Reward: The extra point is often seen as the safer bet with a high success rate, while the two-point conversion is riskier but comes with a higher reward.
  2. Game Scenario: Teams might opt for the two-point conversion when they’re trailing and need to catch up, or when they’re looking to build a substantial lead. The game’s score, time remaining, and the overall situation play a huge role in this decision.

The extra point and two-point conversion add a delightful twist to the game following a touchdown. They embody the strategic essence of football, where every point counts and every decision can sway the game.

So, the next time you see a team lining up after a touchdown, you’ll have a keen understanding of the choices at play and the potential impact on the scoreboard!

Historical Evolution

Football has a rich and evolving history. The scoring rules weren’t always what they are today. Let’s take a quick journey back in time:

Tracing the History

Touchdowns and field goals have been around since the early days of football, though their point values have shifted over the decades. Originally, field goals were worth more points than touchdowns! It wasn’t until 1912 that touchdowns took the lead in point value.

Significant Changes

Over the years, various tweaks have been made to the rules governing touchdowns and field goals, all in the interest of keeping the game fair, competitive, and exciting. For instance, the adoption of the forward pass early in the 20th century revolutionized the game and the way touchdowns are scored.

Strategic Importance

The decision between aiming for a touchdown or settling for a field goal can be a game-changer. Let’s explore the strategic depth of this choice:

When to Opt for What?

Teams get four chances to either gain a first down (by covering 10 yards on the field) or score a touchdown (if they’re already within the 10-yard line).

On First, Second and Third downs a team will always try to earn a first down or a touchdown. It’s on Fourth Down – where if they fail to successfully earn a first down or touchdown the other team is awarded the ball – where decisions have to be made.

Teams often go for touchdowns when they are close to the opponent’s end zone (usually the 1 or 2-yard line) due to the higher point value. However, if the defense is tough or they are farther away, a field goal might be the safer bet to ensure some points.

Game Dynamics

Field position, the time left on the clock, and the score difference play crucial roles in these decisions. It’s a fascinating blend of strategy, risk-assessment, and seizing the moment!

For example, if a team is down 14 points midway through the 4th quarter, it may not make sense for them to try to kick a field goal because they’re not worth enough points given the short amount of time left in the game. In these situations, a team will usually opt to go for touchdowns at all costs in an attempt to catch up.

Comparing to Other Sports

Football holds a unique place in the world of sports, thanks to its distinctive scoring system. Let’s draw some parallels:

Scoring in Rugby and Soccer

In rugby, a try (similar to a touchdown) is worth 5 points, with a chance for 2 more on a conversion kick. Soccer has a simpler approach: each goal counts for 1 point. The strategic considerations in football offer a different flavor of excitement.

Unique Strategy and Excitement

The strategy behind whether to go for a touchdown or a field goal, considering the risk and reward, adds a layer of tactical depth that’s unique to American football. It’s not just about scoring; it’s about making smart decisions under pressure!


Touchdowns and field goals are more than just ways to score; they represent the essence of strategy and excitement in football. As we just discussed, the choice between them can significantly impact the game’s outcome.

As you watch your next game, you’ll now have a deeper appreciation for the decisions teams make in their quest for victory. So, the next time a kicker lines up for a crucial field goal or a quarterback makes a dash for the end zone, you’ll be right there with them, feeling the thrill of every point scored!

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