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Required extra-point attempts in walk-off situations

When Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs scored a walkoff touchdown to win the divisional playoff against the Saints, it was a truly historic moment in the NFL. Once the touchdown was confirmed by replay, the Vikings were required to attempt the extra-point conversion, despite the fact that they lead by 5; that, too, was a historic moment, as that was the last time that will happen.

Under a rule change for the 2018 season, a team in the lead that scores a touchdown at the expiration of the fourth quarter will not have the quarter extended for a meaningless extra-point attempt. Since the two-point conversion rule was instituted in 1994, there were 37 times a team had to at least snap the ball for the extra-point while already in the lead.

An extra-point attempt was always required to follow a touchdown, but when the NFL instituted the overtime rule, there was a specific exception for the overtime score. This was written in to address the paradox in the rules of playing to the first score (sudden death) and that a conversion follows all touchdowns. Because of the infrequency of game-ending touchdowns in regulation, there was no push to create the additional exception. Additionally, there were concerns that opting out of the extra point could have a minuscule effect on division and conference tiebreakers that were based on points, which have sunk further down the tiebreaker procedure list. This oddly was the case in one of the games listed here.

There was a series of disputed calls in the game-winning drive by the Patriots over the Bills in 1998. The story varies as to whether the Bills refused to line up for the extra-point or were not made aware, but Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri was able to score a 2-point run unopposed. That additional 2 points came very close to being a factor in the playoff tiebreakers, as net division points were used to determine the Bills playoff seed.

In another situation of an awkward final kick, the Packers were on the losing end of a decision by replacement officials on the Fail Mary play in 2012. After a fair share of chaos from the play, Packers players were summoned from the lockers to line up on defense for the Seahawks’ superfluous kick. This was familiar territory for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who was the coach of the Patriots in 1998.

As of the 2015 season, the defense can score on the extra-point attempt, so there is no coincidence that there was an immediate shift to the kneeldown tactic most of the time. Even though the defense, trailing by a point or two, has an unlikely path to victory by returning a fumbled attempt at a kneeldown, the rules will preclude this chance, and the game will end on the touchdown play. There has not been an extra-point attempt with an expired clock where the defense could have tied or won, because the last instance with such a margin preceded the defensive conversion rule.

In 2017, there were 5 extra extra-point plays, just as it was in 2015, making for an unusual glut of these situations in recent years.

There were 15 instances where the conversion attempt was needed by the scoring team to prevent a loss:

  • tie game: 4 for 5 (miss: TB, lost in overtime)
  • trailing by 1 point: 5 for 6 (all kicks, miss: NO)
  • trailing by 2 points: 0 for 4

In addition, there were 17 times where the scoring team was trailing by more than 2 points in that time frame; the rules still require those teams to try the extra-point conversion, even though it would not affect the result. The NCAA rulebook allows the ability to forego end-of-game conversions only if the margin of victory is more than 2 points for either team.

Game-ending extra-point attempts by leading team, 1994-2017

Margin: lead that the scoring team had prior to the extra-point attempt.Β Research by Jeremy Snyder

Date Β Team scoring TD scored by Yds PAT try Margin Final
9/17/1995 DEN vs WAS Rod Smith from John Elway pass 43 kick good 6 38–31
9/22/1997 JAX vs PIT Chris Hudson block FG 58 kick good 8 30–21
11/15/1998 TEN vs PIT Michael Roan fumble 0 kick good 8 23–14
11/29/1998 NE vs BUF Ben Coates from Drew Bledsoe pass 1 2pt run (unopposed) 2 25–21
10/31/1999 CLE at NO Kevin Johnson from Tim Couch pass 56 kick good 4 21–16
12/12/1999 CAR at GB Steve Beuerlein rush 5 kneel 2 33–31
12/24/2000 OAK vs CAR Darrien Gordon fumble 74 kick good 42 52–9
10/14/2001 NO at CAR Ricky Williams rush 1 kick good 1 27–25
1/6/2002 MIA vs BUF Brock Marion interception 100 kick good 26 34–7
11/10/2002 NO at CAR Charles Grant fumble 34 kick good 9 34–24
9/14/2003 BAL vs CLE Ed Reed interception 54 kick good 19 33–13
9/28/2003 HOU vs JAX David Carr rush 1 kick good 3 24–20
12/28/2003 ARI vs MIN Nate Poole from Josh McCown pass 28 kneel 1 18–17
9/12/2004 JAX at BUF Ernest Wilford from Byron Leftwich pass 7 kick good 2 13–10
9/11/2005 MIA vs DEN Jason Taylor fumble 85 kick good 23 34–10
11/6/2005 KC vs OAK Larry Johnson rush 1 kick good 3 27–23
9/7/2008 CAR at SD Dante Rosario from Jake Delhomme pass 14 kick good 1 26–24
11/29/2009 TEN vs ARI Kenny Britt from Vince Young pass 10 kick good 2 20–17
10/24/2010 TEN vs PHI Cortland Finnegan interception 41 kick good 17 37–19
11/14/2010 JAX vs HOU Mike Thomas from David Garrard pass 50 kick good 6 31–24
12/19/2010 PHI at NYG DeSean Jackson punt 65 kick good 6 38–31
10/9/2011 CIN at JAX Geno Atkins fumble 10 kick good 9 30–20
9/24/2012 SEA vs GB Golden Tate from Russell Wilson pass 24 kick good 1 14–12
12/2/2012 IND at DET Donnie Avery from Andrew Luck pass 14 kick good 1 35–33
12/9/2012 PHI at TB Jeremy Maclin from Nick Foles pass 1 kick good 1 23–21
12/21/2014 ATL at NO Osi Umenyiora fumble 86 kick good 15 30–14
10/4/2015 ATL vs HOU Nathan Stupar fumble 84 kneel 27 48–21
10/12/2015 PIT at SD Le’Veon Bell rush 1 kick good 3 24–20
11/8/2015 NYG at TB Trevin Wade fumble 5 kneel 14 32–18
11/30/2015 BAL at CLE Will Hill block FG 64 kneel 6 33–27
12/3/2015 GB at DET Richard Rodgers from Aaron Rodgers pass 61 kneel 4 27–23
1/1/2017 NYG at WAS Trevin Wade fumble 11 kneel 9 19–10
10/2/2017 KC vs WAS Justin Houston fumble 13 kneel 9 29–20
11/19/2017 TB at MIA Adarius Glanton fumble 0 kick good 9 30–20
12/10/2017 PHI at LAR Brandon Graham fumble 16 kneel 8 43–35
12/25/2017 PHI vs OAK Derek Barnett fumble 23 kneel 9 19–10
1/14/2018 MIN vs NO DIV Stefon Diggs from Case Keenum pass 61 kneel 5 29–24


Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor-in-chief 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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3 thoughts on “Required extra-point attempts in walk-off situations

  1. The new rule says “…if the touchdown scored on
    the last play was the winning score” without any differentiation between leads of 1-2 and leads of 3-6.

    It therefore follows that the try will be attempted following a touchdown at :00 of regulation, UNLESS this touchdown puts the scoring team up by between one and six points inclusive.

  2. I’m looking at the “winning score” language, and there is some room for interpretation. If a team already in the lead scores a touchdown at :00, it is still a “winning score” and subject to the rule. It can certainly be read literally as only pertaining to 1-6 pt margins exclusively, but I think that the inclusive interpretation will be the way they go. When a rule change is made, there are always language changes to make sure that the new rule fits in context. They may simply change “the winning score” to “a winning score.”

    The intent was stated by Rich McKay of the Competition Committee to eliminate the unnecessary extra-point kicks. It appears they don’t want to exclude a trailing team — even when there’s an insurmountable deficit — from attempting the extra point.

  3. I think a team should be required to attempt an extra point in this situation when the lead is only 1 point or 2 points since the defense can score 2 points if the offense fumbles, and the defense returns it for its 2 points to win or tie the game.

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