Ashley’s Rookie Season : Touchdowns, Wildcards, and Intentional Grounding

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 Did you miss a post? Check out Round One and Round Two, or get to know Ashley better!

Q. What makes a touchdown a touchdown? Does the player have to catch the ball in the end zone, run the ball into the end zone? Both? And what if a player is tackled in the end zone? Does the touchdown still count?

A. This is a great question…one I can’t believe hasn’t been answered here in over A YEAR of posts!!! Oh my word! What an oversight! Let’s get right to it.

The NFL, as we know, is a funny place filled with funny rules. This funny nature extends to touchdowns. In general, to score a touchdown, the football just needs to cross the plane of the goal line – the white line separating the end zone from the rest of the field. If the ball – with or without the ball-carrier who is holding it – crosses that line, it’s a touchdown. Think of a quarterback stretching the ball over the top of a huge pile to extend the ball across the goal line and score a touchdown. The quarterback may not have crossed the goal line but the ball did, and that’s all that matters.

However, if the ball is being thrown into the end zone and is caught by a receiver, the receiver needs to have two feet down in bounds and have full control of the ball to be called a touchdown. To your question – if he’s tackled in the end zone that’s fine; he just has to maintain control of the ball and have two feet touch in bounds. If he runs out of bounds (or falls/is tackled out of bounds) after he’s caught the pass and has had two feet down in the end zone, that’s fine, too.

Touchdowns are worth 6 points. Teams usually opt to kick the point after (PAT, Point After Touchdown) but can also choose to “go for 2” – get the football into the end zone from the 2-yard line for 2 points.

Q. What is a wildcard team?

A. To start, let’s chat about how the NFL is organized. The NFL is divided into two conferences, the AFC and the NFC. Each conference is divided into four divisions, North, South, East, and West. Each division has 4 teams. Thus, there are 32 teams in the NFL (16 in each conference, 4 in each division).

(For a free printable with all of that info, check out this post.)

Wildcard teams are the teams that squeak into the playoffs. Currently, 12 teams make the cut into the playoffs: each conference’s division winners (8 teams total) and the two teams from each conference with the highest record (4 teams total). Those 4 teams that didn’t win their division but had the highest record among non-divisional-winners within their conference are the wildcard teams.

Q. What is a grounding penalty? I heard something about a pocket and the ball clearing the line of scrimmage… (Eagles/Giants game – Manning had 3 of these)

A. Somewhere, Eli is making this face at the mention of his recent woes.

So, yes, Eli has been a good case study in intentional grounding, the penalty in question. Intentional grounding is a penalty called on the quarterback when he throws the ball a) from inside the pocket, b) short of the line of scrimmage, c) where there is no eligible receiver to catch the ball.

As a visual, picture the quarterback standing somewhere behind the offensive line and throwing a short pass to no one. That’s intentional grounding.

Why would a quarterback do that “intentionally”? Usually because he’s getting pressured by the defense. If he takes a sack (gets tackled by the defense while still holding the football), the new line of scrimmage will move backwards to wherever he was sacked. He doesn’t want to take that loss of yardage. So he will often try to “throw it away” – throw it to the sidelines as an incomplete pass. That’s legal. But if he tries to throw it away while he’s inside the pocket and it doesn’t travel past the line of scrimmage and there are no eligible receivers in the area, that’s intentional grounding.

Don’t try to think about it logically, since the logical conclusion is that there are no eligible receivers on the sidelines, either, so shouldn’t that be intentional grounding too? But it’s legal as long as the pass goes past the line of scrimmage. Intentional grounding has to meet all three requirements: inside the pocket, short of the line of scrimmage, thrown to a place where there are no eligible receivers.

And that’s Round Three! Questions, comments, concerns? High tail it over to the comments!

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    […] goes hand in hand with something we talked about last week in Ashley’s Rookie Season – what constitutes a touchdown? In this scenario, it was a little unclear at first whether James […]

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