As the most lucrative way to score in football, the goal of every offensive drive in football is to score a touchdown, other than special circumstances. A touchdown is worth six points to the scoring team. In order to score a touchdown, the ball must either cross the other team's goal-line while in the possession of a player, or a player must catch and secure the ball while in the opposing team's end zone.
While all touchdowns are worth six points in football, the end zone catch rule differs between pro and college football. In pro football, the receiver must have both feet down or a body part in-bounds when the ball is caught for the score to count. In college, on the other hand, the player only needs to have one foot down with the ball secured to gain six points.
A field goal, worth three points, is commonly accomplished when a player snaps the ball to a holder, a punter or backup quarterback, and the kicker puts it through the uprights. There is another rarely used way to convert a field goal called the dropkick. For this play, the kicker drops the ball off the ground and kicks it through.
Only one dropkick has been converted since 1941 when quarterback Doug Flutie converted the elusive dropkick in 2005. For traditional field goals, kickers usually line up about eight yards behind their offensive line. The opposing team can block and retrieve the ball for either possession of the ball or even a touchdown.
After getting a touchdown, a team can choose to kick an extra point, the more common decision, or attempt to score a two-point conversion. In today's NFL, most teams only try to go for two when they need the points to be in a better position to win. To complete a two-point conversion, the scoring team must reach the endzone in the same ways as a touchdown with the play starting from the two-yard line.
While most teams favor the PAT, analytics support going for two in most situations as the two-point play averages 1.002 points per attempt while extra points only average 0.938 points per attempt.
Before the rule changed in 2015, the extra point, or PAT (Point After Touchdown) used to be the most routine play in football. Until 2015, the scoring team would attempt a field goal from the 2-yard-line, making the kick as easy as possible in a professional sport. The extra-point is now a field goal taken from the 15-yard-line which makes the attempt a 33-yard field goal.
This change affected kickers greatly as they struggle more with making the extra point now. Before the rule change, kickers usually made 98-99 percent of their extra points in a season. Now, the success rate has dropped to 93-94 percent. Also because of this rule change, a team can block and return the ball to the end zone to earn two points.
A safety occurs when the offensive team is tackled or touched down by a defender in the offense's endzone. The play scores two points for the defensive team. This score is different from the other types because after a team suffers a safety, the scoring team is then punted the ball, giving them both the points and possession. Teams may take safeties at the end of a game to run out the time on the clock if they are leading by more than two points as a strategic play.
In today's pass heavy NFL, the most common way to score points in the NFL is the passing touchdown. This trend has also increased the number of defensive touchdowns, as the defense has more chances to take advantage of the offense's mistakes. The second most common way of scoring is the field goal. Then, the rushing touchdown accounts for the third most points scored in the NFL. Rushing touchdowns are rarer because the offense has to either have a great play or be right outside of the end zone to score one. Finally, the less valuable scores like the extra point, two-point conversion, and safety are last.
The two-point conversion used to only be used in emergency situations, but as analytics have started to make their impact on football, teams have elected to go for two more often. The percentage of teams that elect to try the two-point conversion has grown recently, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. The points per attempt of the two-point conversion versus the extra point will continue to influence more teams to take that risk after scoring six.
Technically, yes, a team can score one point in the entirety of a football game. This result, though, is extremely unlikely. A one-point safety can occur on a two-point conversion if the offense fails badly enough that they recover the ball in their own end zone, 98 yards down the field, and are tackled for a safety. While this play has not occurred yet in the NFL, it is completely possible and would become a legendary football blooper.
The most points an NFL team has scored in one game occurred in 1940 during the NFL Championship between Washington and the Chicago Bears. The Bears completely dominated the game, and shutout Washington by a score of 73-0. Out of the 11 touchdowns scored by the Bears, seven were rushing touchdowns and only one of their scores came from a passing touchdown as the passing game was still not figured out at the time.