Common Football Terms to Know

Football fans have their own language when they talk about the game. To keep up, it’s useful to know what terms like down, extra point, safety, and snap mean.

  • Down: A period of action that starts when the ball is put into play and ends when the ball is ruled dead (meaning that the play is completed). The offense gets four downs to advance the ball 10 yards. If it fails to do so, it must surrender the ball to the opponent, usually by punting on the fourth down.

  • End zone: A 10-yard-long area at both ends of the field — the promised land for a football player. You score a touchdown when you enter the end zone in control of the football. If you’re tackled in your own end zone while in possession of the football, the other team gets a safety.

  • Extra point: A kick, worth one point, that’s typically attempted after every touchdown (it’s also known as the point after touchdown, or PAT). The ball is placed on either the 2-yard line (NFL) or the 3-yard line (college and high school) and generally is kicked from inside the 10-yard line after being snapped to the holder. It must sail between the uprights and above the crossbar of the goalpost to be considered good.

  • Field goal: A kick, worth three points, that can be attempted from anywhere on the field but usually is attempted within 40 yards of the goalpost. Like an extra point, a kick must sail above the crossbar and between the uprights of the goalpost to be ruled good.

  • Fumble: The act of losing possession of the ball while running with it or being tackled. Members of the offense and defense can recover a fumble. If the defense recovers the fumble, the fumble is called a turnover.

  • Hash marks: The lines on the center of the field that signify 1 yard on the field. Before every play, the ball is spotted between the hash marks or on the hash marks, depending on where the ball carrier was tackled on the preceding play.

  • Interception: A pass that’s caught by a defensive player, ending the offense’s possession of the ball.

  • Kickoff: A free kick (the receiving team can’t make an attempt to block it) that puts the ball into play. A kickoff is used at the start of the first and third periods and after every touchdown and successful field goal.

  • Punt: A kick made when a player drops the ball and kicks it while it falls toward his foot. A punt is usually made on a fourth down when the offense must surrender possession of the ball to the defense because it couldn’t advance 10 yards.

  • Return: The act of receiving a kick or punt and running toward the opponent’s goal line with the intent of scoring or gaining significant yardage.

  • Sack: When a defensive player tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of yardage.

  • Safety: A score, worth two points, that the defense earns by tackling an offensive player in possession of the ball in his own end zone.

  • Snap: The action in which the ball is hiked (tossed between the legs) by the center to the quarterback, to the holder on a kick attempt, or to the punter. When the snap occurs, the ball is officially in play and action begins.

  • Touchdown: A score, worth six points, that occurs when a player in possession of the ball crosses the plane of the opponent’s goal line, or when a player catches the ball while in the opponent’s end zone, or when a defensive player recovers a loose ball in the opponent’s end zone.

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