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NFL Rules for a Safety

By Sam Eggleston

Safeties are rare in professional football, but what does it take for a team to earn one? The rules for a safety are very specific and require a few examples to make them clear.

What is a Safety?

A safety is when a team allows the ball to be blown dead on or behind its goal line. This results in the awarding of two points to the opposing team. Possession of the ball is then given to the opposing team via a free kick from the team that committed the safety.

Examples of a Safety

There are multiple examples of how a safety can happen, but some easy-to-understand examples include: -- A punt is blocked by the defense and goes out of the kicking team's end zone. Because the ball was punted and was not recovered by the defense before it went out of the end zone, it was still considered the offense's ball. -- A quarterback takes the snap and backs up into his end zone where he is sacked by the defense. -- An offensive tackle commits a foul in the offense's end zone. Because the penalty is enforced from the point of where it occurred, a safety is awarded. -- A player on the receiving team is hit by the punt and it rolls into his own end zone and out of bounds, or is recovered by a member of his own team. Because the receiving player touched the ball--unless he is pushed into it by a player from the kicking team--the ball becomes the receiving team's possession and, thus, the ball will be blown dead behind its goal line. -- A quarterback takes the snap and backs into his own end zone, where he pitches the ball backward or throws the ball overhand to a player behind him, and it is knocked down and out of the end zone.

Examples of What Isn't a Safety

Some calls are close, but because the NFL has such a clean-cut set of rules, there is no room for argument. Examples of plays that would be close but would not end up being a safety include: -- A quarterback takes the snap and backs into the end zone before and handing it to the halfback. The halfback gets out of the end zone, then is hit by a defensive player, who drives him back into the end zone and tackles him. Because NFL rules indicate the ball is spotted where the ballcarrier's forward momentum is stopped and not where the tackle takes him, the ball would be dead outside of the end zone. -- A defensive player intercepts the ball on his own 1-yard line with both feet inbounds before he is hit and pushed into his own end zone. Because the player intercepted the ball inbounds in the playing field, his forward motion was stopped at that point. -- A defensive player grabs an interception in his end zone and begins to run, only to be brought down before he's able to cross out of the end zone. This is not a safety because the ball was not brought onto the field of play and a touchback is awarded to the intercepting team. -- A quarterback takes the snap, then backs up into his end zone. He throws the ball forward, only to have it batted back and into the end zone by a defensive player. This is an incomplete pass.

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