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Everything you need to know about the new point-after-touchdown conversion rules




The owners passed a major change to modify the rules for the touchdown-conversion try, which is arguably the most significant scoring change in football in over 100 years.  The new rule will increase the distance for extra-point kicks by moving the line of scrimmage from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line and to allow the defense the ability to score on a conversion attempt for the first time in NFL history. A two-point attempt will still be snapped at the 2-yard line.

A team’s choice to go for one or two will be set when the referee signals the ball is ready for play. The choice cannot be changed at that point, except after a timeout or a penalty. (The offense also may not change the position of the ball between the hash marks, except after a timeout or penalty.)

The >99% play

Kick conversion accuracy since 1932 (click to enlarge).

Conversion kick accuracy since 1932 (click to enlarge).

The league had a trial run of the longer kick in the first two weeks of the 2014 preseason, which resulted in a 93.2 percent kick conversion rate. In the 2015 preseason, that rate was fairly consistent at 93.5 percent, but it is a significant drop from the 2014 regular season, when kicks were converted 99.3 percent of the time. The last time the distance of the extra-point kick was changed was 1974 when the goalposts were moved from the goal line to the end line.That resulted in a precipitous drop in successful kicks that went below the 90 percent mark in 1976. It took 18 years before the accuracy rate returned to pre-1974 levels.

On average, a missed kick makes a decisive difference in the result of roughly one game every two seasons. Now, it is possible to have multiple scoring shifts within the same game.

Defense can score

A defensive interception or recovery of a blocked kick or fumble will give the defense two points if they can return to the offense’s end zone. In that case, the offense will kick off following the score. This rule has been in place at the college level; in fact my alma mater scored the first points in their first football game this way.

The previous NFL rule made the ball dead upon possession by the defense and when a kick had no chance of conversion.

The last rule change of this magnitude to the scoring structure was 1912 — eight years before the birth of the NFL — when touchdowns were increased from five points to six to be equivalent to two field goals. While the rules changed to allow two-point conversions in 1994, this was an add-on that did not affect all conversion attempts.

No dropkick loophole

I floated the idea when the rule was initially passed (and the technical language was not finalized) that the offense could commit to a run or pass, snap from the 2-yard line, and then kick a dropkick. Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino threw water on that idea:

If a team attempts a kick that does not snap from the 15 (or equivalent yard line after a penalty), it is a touchback, and the conversion attempt fails.

On the other hand, if the line of scrimmage is set for a kick, the offense may still run or pass for two points, particularly if there is a botched snap.

Penalty enforcement just got more complicated

The previous rule on extra-point attempts would enforce defensive penalties on the ensuing kickoff, but if the conversion attempt was no good, the penalty allowed for a retry. Now penalty enforcement has become more muddled with the addition of two lines of scrimmage for the conversion attempt. As a throwback to its rugby origins, the rulebook refers to this play as a Try.

On any foul on the Try, generally, the offense has the option of enforcing the penalty from the 15- or the 2-yard line. This option includes penalties that the offense committed. The option to assess on the kickoff also remains if the penalty is not needed to create a kick. So, if there is a defensive penalty on a kick that snaps from the 15, the offense can try another one-point try from the 7½-yard line, or go for two points from the 1-yard line.

Penalty on conversion

Similarly, if the offense is assessed a penalty on a two-point Try, and the penalty is accepted, they may opt to have the enforcement go back from the 15 and kick from there. However, since the defense can possess the ball, there are additional considerations that have to be made. The defense is going to decline an offensive foul if the offense did not score. The only provisions for an offensive foul to be carried forward to the kickoff are for 15-yard fouls or if the offense fouls after a change of possession.

This is where I will start to lose a lot of you. There are a few more caveats to the general enforcement rules in the table below. First, a defensive pass interference foul is a spot foul, and generally will result in the ball being placed at the 1-yard line (foul occurring in the end zone). A DPI cannot carry forward to the kickoff, so if the two points were scored despite the interference, then the penalty is declined. The offense may run a one- or two-point play from the succeeding spot after a DPI penalty. (Effective 2017, a DPI can be enforced as a half-distance penalty from the other Try spot. This would be used if the foul spot is behind the other Try spot.) Also, to avoid a situation where a major 15-yard foul might be declined under normal enforcement, those fouls are carried forward to the kickoff, unless that foul is used to re-Try or to nullify a score.

We also are not considering fouls by the defense on the touchdown or post-touchdown fouls by either team. Those continue to be enforced only on the kickoff. Once the continuing action around a touchdown is over, any subsequent foul is determined to be on the Try attempt and not pinned to the touchdown.

Offensive Foul Defensive Foul Fouls by Both Teams
Try is good Assess and Retry Assess on kickoff; or Retry for 2 points from 1-yard line Offset and Retry
Try is good and foul is after the score Score counts, assess on kickoff Score counts, assess on kickoff (no option to Retry for 2 points) Score counts, offset. (If def. has live-ball foul, may decline it & assess off. foul on kickoff)
Try is no good Decline* Assess and Retry Offset and Retry
Pre-snap foul Assess and resume the Try down Assess on either the kickoff or on the Try, and resume the Try down Offset and resume the Try down
Change of possession and defense doesn’t score† Foul before change: Decline,* Try fails Assess and Retry. Defensive fouls on a Try are assessed from previous spot (or the other Try spot) regardless of when the foul occurs, which negates the change of possession Only off. foul before change: Offset, Try fails
Foul after change: Assess on kickoff, Try fails Def. foul (or both) before change: Offset, Retry
Fouls before and after: Assess the After on the kickoff, Try fails Both teams foul after: Offset, Try fails.
Defense scores 2 points Foul before change: Decline,* defense converts Nullify score, assess and Retry (except if foul is after the score, then the score counts, assess on kickoff) Offset and Retry
Foul after change: Assess on kickoff, defense converts
Offensive foul that is a loss of down Try fails, no yardage assessed
Foul results in safety 1 point for defense 1 point for offense; or (unless foul is after possession change) Retry for 2 points

*Major 15-yard penalties would be accepted and enforced on the kickoff.
†If there are multiple changes of possession on the same play, only the first one is used to determine before/after enforcement.

One additional consideration is if one team has a 15-yard foul, the other has a simple-5 (five yards, but no automatic first down, no loss of down, etc.),  and there is no change of possession. This is a 5 vs. 15 enforcement, which will disregard the 5-yarder and enforce the 15-yarder. In the case of a 5 vs. 15 enforcement, the Try must be replayed, with any result from the previous one wiped out, and the 15-yard penalty is assessed on the Retry. If there was no snap, there is no Try attempt to negate, so the offense does have an option to move the 15-yarder (by either side) to the kickoff. Separately, if the offense has a 15-yard post-score foul, though, the score counts, and the foul is assessed on the kickoff. The option to decline a 5 vs. 15 is not available.

If there are fouls on consecutive Try attempts, the rules were changed in 2021 that made sure that the penalties were not lost just by switching between a kick and scrimmage Try and only enforcing the last penalty. Now, when the offense changes a 1- or 2-point play to the other, all of the penalties enforced on prior Tries are “restacked” and enforced in order from the new snap spot. This means that the offense could be penalized 10 yards for holding on the first attempt, and they can snap from the 25 for the next kick. If on the second attempt, the defense fouls, it is enforced from the previous spot (the 25), or the offense can switch to a run/pass Try and the defensive foul is assessed from the 12 (starting at the 2, and then including the 10-yard offensive holding from the first attempt). [Updated 4/21/21. Former rule: By switching to the other Try spot after the second penalty, it essentially erases the first one.]

And, finally, for the penalty department: if a touchdown is scored at the expiration of the half, the Try is still attempted. (Exceptions: there are no Try attempts in overtime or at the end of the game when the winning team scored the touchdown.) If there are any fouls that would carry forward to the kickoff, they are nullified. The half cannot be extended by an untimed down due to a foul on the touchdown or on the conversion Try.

Holy Roller Rule

Since the offense was the only team that could possess the ball in the past, the “fourth-down” fumble rule was in effect for the conversion attempt. This was a rule revision directly related to the famed Holy Roller play. Since the defense can also possess the ball, the rules have changed this to the “two-minute” fumble rule. If there are multiple fumbles on the Try, the fumbling player is the only player that can recover the ball for his team, but all 11 opposing players are eligible to do so. If a teammate of the fumbler recovers the ball, the ball is dead and the Try fails.

If there are multiple fumbles during the same play, the Holy Roller Rule only restricts the last player who fumbled. Therefore, a defensive fumble may be recovered by any offensive player, even if the offense fumbled for the first change of possession.

1-point safety

On the extraordinarily rare occurrence of a safety against the defense on the conversion attempt, the current rule is that it is a one-point safety. This aligns with the scoring structure of the conversion attempt, where a “touchdown” is worth two points, and a “field goal” is worth one. Because the defense could not possess the ball, it made possibility of having a safety even more remote (as illustrated in our “tough quiz“). However, since the defense is allowed to possess the ball, it creates new situations where a one-point safety can be scored. Again, it is still incredibly remote.

Is it possible for a team to score only 1 point in a game? For the first time, yes. Even forfeits are recorded as 2-0 results (although it has never happened) in the NFL, but it is possible for one team to score only one point. Consider this scenario: With the score tied 0-0, one team scores a touchdown as time expires in the game. (Under a rule change, there is no conversion attempt on a game-winning score, but ignore that for this example.) On the extra-point conversion, the quarterback celebrates like Flipper Anderson (video) and runs off the field through the back of his own end zone. This is a one-point safety on the offense, and the final score in this case is 6-1.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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