A field goal (FG) is a means of scoring in gridiron football. To score a field goal, the team in possession of the ball must place kick, or drop kick, the ball through the goal, i.e., between the uprights and over the crossbar. American football requires that a field goal must only come during a play from scrimmage, while Canadian football retains open field kicks and thus field goals may be scored at any time from anywhere on the field and by any player. The vast majority of field goals, in both codes, are place kicked. Drop kicked field goals were common in the early days of gridiron football but are almost never done in modern times. In most leagues, a successful field goal awards three points (a notable exception is in six-man football where, due to the difficulty of making a successful field goal because of the small number of players available to stop the opposing team from attempting a block, a field goal is worth four points).
A field goal may also be scored through a fair catch kick, but this is extremely rare. Since a field goal is worth only three points, as opposed to a touchdown, which is worth six points, it is usually only attempted in specific situations (see Strategy).
The goal structure consists of a horizontal crossbar suspended 10 feet (3.0 m) above the ground, with two vertical goalposts 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m) apart extending vertically from each end of the crossbar. In American football, the goals are centered on each end line; in Canadian football, they are centered on each goal line.
As a field goal is worth only three points, while a touchdown scores at least six (which usually becomes seven with a successful conversion, and potentially eight with a two-point conversion), teams will generally attempt a field goal only in the following situations:
Except in desperate situations, a team will generally attempt field goals only when keeping a drive alive is unlikely, and its kicker has a significant chance of success, as a missed field goal results in a turnover at the spot of the kick (in the NFL) or at the line of scrimmage (in the NCAA). In American high school rules and Canadian football, where a missed field goal is treated the same as a punt, most teams still opt not to attempt field goals from very long range since field goal formations are not conducive to covering kick returns. Even under ideal conditions, the best professional kickers historically had difficulty making kicks longer than 50 yards consistently. If a team chooses not to attempt a field goal on their last down, they can punt to the other team. A punt cannot score any points in American football unless the receiving team touches the ball first and the kicking team recovers it (though it can result in a single in Canadian football), but it may push the other team back toward its own end.
The longest field goal kick in NFL history is 64 yards, a record set by Matt Prater on December 8, 2013. The previous record was 63, originally set by Tom Dempsey (1970) and then matched by Jason Elam (1998), Sebastian Janikowski (2011), David Akers (2012), Graham Gano (2018), and Brett Maher (2019). The record in the CFL is 62 yards, set by Paul McCallum on October 27, 2001. High school, college and most professional football leagues offer only a three-point field goal; however, some professional leagues have encouraged more rare kicks through four-point field goals. NFL Europe encouraged long field goals of 50 yards or more by making those worth four points instead of three (much like Australian rules' Super Goal or basketball's three-point line), a rule since adopted by the Stars Football League. Similarly, the sport of arena football sought (unsuccessfully) to repopularize the drop kick by making that worth four points; it failed, since only one kicker (Brian Mitchell) was able to do it with any semblance of proficiency. (In six-man football, all field goals are worth four points instead of the usual three.) Not relating to the NFL, Mark Rober made a video of his kicking machine with Matt Prater, when Matt Prater beat his NFL record in a 65 yard field goal kick. The overall field goal percentage during the 2010 NFL season was 82.3%. In comparison, Jan Stenerud, one of only three pure kickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (along with fellow placekicker Morten Andersen and punter Ray Guy), had a career field goal percentage of 66.8% from 1967 to 1985.
When a team decides to attempt a field goal, it will generally line up in a very tight formation, with all but two players lined up along or near the line of scrimmage: the placekicker and the holder. The holder is usually the team's punter or backup quarterback. Instead of the regular center, a team may have a dedicated long snapper trained especially to snap the ball on placekick attempts and punts.
The holder usually lines up seven to eight yards behind the line of scrimmage, with the kicker a few yards behind him. Upon receiving the snap, the holder holds the ball against the ground vertically, with the stitches away from the kicker. The kicker begins his approach during the snap, so the snapper and holder have little margin for error. A split-second mistake can disrupt the entire attempt. Depending on the level of play, the ball, upon reaching the holder, is held up by either the aid of a small rubber "tee" (all ranks up to the high school level, which is not the same as the kickoff tee, but rather a small platform, and comes in either 1 or 2 inch varieties) or is held up by the ground (in college and at the professional level).
The measurement of a field goal's distance is from the goalpost to the point where the ball was positioned for the kick by the holder. In American football, where the goalpost is located at the back of the end zone (above the end line), the ten yards of the end zone are added to the yard line distance at the spot of the hold.
Until the 1960s, placekickers approached the ball straight on, with the toe making first contact with the ball. The technique of kicking the ball "soccer-style", by approaching the ball at an angle and kicking it with the instep, was introduced by Hungarian-born kicker Pete Gogolak in the 1960s. Reflecting his roots in European soccer, Gogolak observed that kicking the ball at an angle could cover more distance than kicking straight-on; he played college football at Cornell and made his pro debut in 1964 with the Buffalo Bills of the AFL; his younger brother Charlie was also an NFL kicker. The soccer-style kick gained popularity and was nearly universal by the late 1970s; the last straight-on kicker in the NFL was Mark Moseley, who retired in 1986.
If there is any time left in the half, the method of resuming play after a successful field goal varies between leagues.
A missed field goal is said to be "no good" if the kicked ball does not cross between the uprights and over the crossbar of the goal posts. If it misses to the side of the uprights, it may be called "wide left" or "wide right" as the case may be. A field goal attempt may be described as "short" if it does not have sufficient distance to go over the cross bar. Some commentators will only describe a field goal attempt as being short if it appears to have been aimed correctly while others will describe an attempt appearing to lack both accuracy and distance as being both wide and short.
If a field goal attempt is missed and does not go out of bounds, a defensive player may catch the ball and return it, like a punt or kickoff. Or a defensive player may pick up the ball on the bounce or while rolling before it stops rolling and is declared dead by a referee. This type of play usually occurs during an extremely long field goal attempt due to the distance the defense must travel to reach the returner. If there is a significant likelihood of a miss and the strategic game situation warrants it, the defense places a player downfield, in or near their end zone, to catch the ball. The risk in this is that the return man may be tackled deep in his own territory, at a considerably worse position than he could have gotten by letting the ball go dead (see below); furthermore, should the returner fumble the ball, the kicking team can recover it and gain a new set of downs (the advantage is that the kicking team is lined up very close together to stop kick blockers, and not spread across the field like a kickoff or punt team, and is therefore in poor position to defend the return). Thus, teams will usually return a kick only towards the end of a half (when the kick will be the final play) or in a particularly desperate situation.
If a ball caroms off one of the goal posts or the crossbar but lands in the field of play, the ball is considered dead and cannot be returned. (This is not the case in arena football, where large "rebound nets" surround the goal posts for the explicit purpose of keeping the ball in play.) However, if the ball continues into the goal after caroming, the score counts.
Situations where the defense does not return a missed field goal vary between leagues and levels of play:
Occasionally, the defense will succeed in blocking a field goal. If a blocked field goal is in or behind the neutral zone, it is treated like a fumble and can be advanced by either team. Beyond the neutral zone, a blocked kick is treated like a punt and can be advanced only by the defense, unless a defensive player fumbles the ball, after which an offensive player can advance it.
In the early days of football, kicking was highly emphasized. In 1883, the scoring system was devised, with field goals counting for five points, and touchdowns and conversions worth four apiece. In 1897, the touchdown was raised to five points while the conversion was lowered to one point. (In 1958, the NCAA created the two-point conversion for conversions scored via run or pass; the NFL followed suit in 1994.) Field goals were devalued to four points in 1904, and then to the modern three points in 1909. The touchdown was changed to six points in 1912 in American football; the Canadian game followed suit in 1956.
The spot of the conversion has also changed through the years. In 1924, NCAA rules spotted the conversion at the 3-yard line, before moving it back to the 5-yard line in 1925. In 1929, the spot was moved up to the 2-yard line, matching the NFL. In 1968, the NCAA diverged from the NFL rules in moving the spot back to the original 3-yard line. Canadian rules originally spotted the conversion at the 5-yard line, which remains closer than in the American code (for kicked conversions) as the goalposts are at the front of the end zone.
In 2015, to make conversion kicks harder, the NFL and CFL moved the line of scrimmage for conversion kicks to the 15- and 25-yard lines, respectively. (The CFL also moved the spot for two-point conversion attempts to the 3-yard line, while then NFL remained at the 2-yard line.)
The goalposts were originally located on the goal line; this led to many injuries and sometimes interfered with play. The NCAA moved the goal posts to the rear of the end zone in 1927. The NFL (still following NCAA rules at the time) followed suit, but moved the posts back to the goal line starting in the 1932 NFL Playoff Game, a change made necessary by the size of the indoor Chicago Stadium and kept when the NFL rules stopped mirroring the NCAA rules in 1933. The NFL kept the goal posts at the goal line until 1974, when they were moved back to the rear of the end zone, where they have remained since. This was partly a result of the narrowed hashmark distance made in 1972, which had made for easier field-goal angles. The Canadian game still has posts on the goal line.
The width of the goalposts and the hashmarks have also varied throughout the years. In 1959, the NCAA goalposts were widened to 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 m), the standard width for high school posts today. In 1991, the college goalposts were reduced in width to 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m), matching the NFL. For the 1991 and 1992 seasons, this meant potentially severe angles for short field goal attempts, since the hashmark width remained at 53 ft 4 in (16.26 m). In 1993, the NCAA narrowed the distance between the hashmarks to 40 ft (12.19 m), matching what was the width of hashmarks in the NFL from 1945 through 1971; the NFL narrowed the hashmarks in 1972 to goalpost width at 18.5 feet (5.64 m). In the CFL, the hashmarks are 51 feet (16 m), but the field is 195 feet (59 m) in width, 35 feet (11 m) wider than the American field.
The NFL increased the height of the uprights above the crossbar to 20 feet (6.10 m) in 1966 and 30 feet (9.14 m) in 1974. In 2014, they were raised five feet to 35 feet (10.67 m) after the adoption of a proposal by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
The "slingshot" goalpost, with a single post curving to support the crossbar, was invented by Jim Trimble and Joel Rottman in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The first were built by Alcan and displayed at Expo 67, the World's fair in Montreal. The NFL had standardized the goalposts in 1966 and adopted the slingshot for the 1967 season; the NCAA later adopted the same rule, but later allowed the use of "offset" goalposts, with two posts rather than one (which were the norm prior to the invention of the "slingshot" goalposts). The CFL was the first league to use the new goalposts; they made their debut in the 2nd game of the CFL's Eastern Conference final in 1966 (which was played at Montreal's Autostade as Landsdowne Park [now TD Place Stadium], the home of Ottawa Rough Riders, was undergoing renovations), and were used in the Grey Cup the next week at Vancouver's Empire Stadium. Three schools in Division I FBS currently use dual-support posts: Florida State, LSU, and Washington State. A special exemption was allowed by the NFL for the New Orleans Saints to use the offset goalposts during the 2005 season, when they used LSU's stadium for home games after Hurricane Katrina.
Goalposts at the professional level today are sometimes equipped with a camera mounted to the stanchion immediately behind the center of the crossbar. Since these cameras are both above and slightly behind the crossbar, a field goal attempt will be judged good if it strikes this equipment.
The usage of small, rubberized "tees" for field goals (not the same as the kickoff tee, but rather a small plastic block; such tees come in heights of 1 or 2 in [25 or 51 mm]) varies depending on the level of play. Unlike in the lower ranks of football up to the high school level, the NFL (and most other professional leagues) has never allowed the use of small rubber tees for field goal attempts, having always required kickers to kick off the ground for such attempts (and for extra points). In 1948, the NCAA authorized the use of a small rubberized kicking tee for field goals and extra points, but banned them by 1989, requiring kicks from the ground like in the NFL. The Canadian Football League, despite its status as a professional league, does allow for the use of such a tee for field goals and convert kicks, but it is optional, as kickers can also kick off the ground if they so desire.
During the 2011 NFL season, a record 90 field goals of 50 yards or longer were made. In 2012, this record was increased to 92 field goals of 50 yards or longer.
According to the Guinness World Records, the longest recorded field goal successfully kicked at any level was 69 yards. It was kicked by Ove Johansson of the Abilene Christian University Wildcats in the 1976 game against East Texas State University Lions (now Texas A&M University–Commerce) in Shotwell Stadium, Abilene, Texas.
The longest field goal made in a game was 64 yards by Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos. The longest field goal attempt in an NFL game was 76 yards by Sebastian Janikowski on September 28, 2008. Brett Maher of the Dallas Cowboys is the only kicker to successfully make 3 field goals of 60 or more yards (63 vs the Philadelphia Eagles 2019 week 7, 62 vs the Philadelphia Eagles 2018 week 14, 62 against the New York Jets 2019 week 6).
In the history of the NFL regular season, only 22 field goals have been made from at least 60 yards:
|64 yards||Matt Prater||Denver Broncos||51–28||Tennessee Titans||December 8, 2013||End of 1st half||Sports Authority Field at Mile High||5,200 ft (1,585 m)||13 °F (−11 °C); Sunny; Wind: S at 3 mph; Humidity: 72%|
|63 yards||Tom Dempsey||New Orleans Saints||19–17||Detroit Lions||November 8, 1970||Born with a stub for a right foot. Game-winning kick as time expired. Detroit kicker Errol Mann had kicked a field goal with 0:11 remaining to give Lions the lead. Previous record was 56 yards in 1953.||Tulane Stadium||16 ft (5 m)|
|63 yards||Jason Elam||Denver Broncos||37–24||Jacksonville Jaguars||October 25, 1998||First field goal to tie record||Mile High Stadium||5,200 ft (1,585 m)|
|63 yards||Sebastian Janikowski||Oakland Raiders||23–20||Denver Broncos||September 12, 2011||Left-footed||Sports Authority Field at Mile High||5,200 ft (1,585 m)||Light rain early|
|63 yards||David Akers||San Francisco 49ers||30–22||Green Bay Packers||September 9, 2012||Left-footed; end of first half; ball bounced off crossbar before crossing the plane||Lambeau Field||640 ft (200 m)||70 °F (21 °C); Mostly Cloudy; Wind: N at 7 mph; Humidity: 43%|
|63 yards||Graham Gano||Carolina Panthers||33–31||New York Giants||October 7, 2018||Game-winning field goal as time expired.||Bank of America Stadium||751 ft (229 m)||88 °F (31 °C); Mostly Sunny; Wind: E at 6 mph; Humidity: 59%|
|63 yards||Brett Maher||Dallas Cowboys||37-10||Philadelphia Eagles||October 20, 2019||End of 1st half||AT&T Stadium||584 ft (179 m)|
|62 yards||Matt Bryant||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||23–21||Philadelphia Eagles||October 22, 2006||Game-winning kick as time expired||Raymond James Stadium||35 ft (11 m)|
|62 yards||Stephen Gostkowski||New England Patriots||33–8||Oakland Raiders||November 19, 2017||Right-footed; kicked as time expired at the end of the first half||Azteca Stadium||7,280 ft (2,220 m)||63 °F (17 °C); Mostly Cloudy|
|62 yards||Brett Maher||Dallas Cowboys||29-23 (OT)||Philadelphia Eagles||December 9, 2018||Right-footed; kicked as first half ended||AT&T Stadium||567 ft
|Retractable Roof Closed|
|62 yards||Brett Maher||Dallas Cowboys||22-24||New York Jets||October 13, 2019||Right-footed; kicked as first half ended||MetLife Stadium||7 ft
|64 °F (18 °C); mostly sunny; Wind: S at 7 mph; Humidity: 51%|
|61 yards||Sebastian Janikowski||Oakland Raiders||9–23||Cleveland Browns||December 27, 2009||Left-footed||Cleveland Browns Stadium||580 ft (180 m)|
|61 yards||Jay Feely||Arizona Cardinals||16–19 (OT)||Buffalo Bills||October 14, 2012||Right-footed; longest game-tying field goal with 1:09 remaining in the 4th quarter, missed a 38-yard field goal that would have won the game at the end of regulation||University of Phoenix Stadium||1,150 ft (350 m)||Retractable roof closed|
|61 yards||Justin Tucker||Baltimore Ravens||18–16||Detroit Lions||December 16, 2013||Right-footed; game-winning field goal with 43 seconds remaining; sixth field goal of the game||Ford Field||601 ft (183 m)||Dome|
|61 yards||Greg Zuerlein||St. Louis Rams||18–21 (OT)||Minnesota Vikings||November 8, 2015||Right-footed||TCF Bank Stadium||869 ft (265 m)||58 °F (14 °C); sunny|
|61 yards||Jake Elliott||Philadelphia Eagles||27–24||New York Giants||September 24, 2017||Right-footed; game winning kick as time expired. Second game of NFL career. NFL rookie record for longest made field goal.||Lincoln Financial Field||39 ft (12 m)||91 °F (33 °C); sunny|
|61 yards||Jason Myers||Seattle Seahawks||16-23||Los Angeles Rams||November 15, 2020||Right-footed; 4th & 10, 0:02 time remaining, end of first half||SoFi Stadium||Sea level||Calm|
|60 yards||Steve Cox||Cleveland Browns||9–12||Cincinnati Bengals||October 21, 1984||Straight-ahead kick; on AstroTurf||Riverfront Stadium||490 ft (150 m)|
|60 yards||Morten Andersen||New Orleans Saints||17–20||Chicago Bears||October 27, 1991||Left-footed; on AstroTurf; first 60-yard kick done indoors||Louisiana Superdome||Sea level||Dome|
|60 yards||Rob Bironas||Tennessee Titans||20–17||Indianapolis Colts||December 3, 2006||Right-footed; game winner with six seconds remaining||LP Field||400 ft (120 m)|
|60 yards||Dan Carpenter||Miami Dolphins||10–13||Cleveland Browns||December 5, 2010||End of 1st half||Sun Life Stadium||5 ft (1.5 m)||77 °F (25 °C), wind SW at 14 mph (23 km/h)|
|60 yards||Greg Zuerlein||St. Louis Rams||19–13||Seattle Seahawks||September 30, 2012||In his rookie season; longest field goal in third quarter; also kicked a 58-yard field goal in the first quarter||Edward Jones Dome||466 ft (142 m)||Dome|
|60 yards||Chandler Catanzaro||Arizona Cardinals||18–33||Buffalo Bills||September 25, 2016||Longest field goal in career||New Era Field||600 ft (180 m)|
Prior to Dempsey's 1970 kick, the longest field goal in NFL history was 56 yards, by Bert Rechichar of the Baltimore Colts in 1953. A 55-yard field goal, achieved by a drop kick, was recorded by Paddy Driscoll in 1924, and stood as the unofficial record until that point; some sources indicate a 54-yarder by Glenn Presnell in 1934 as the record, due to the inability to precisely verify Driscoll's kick.
In a pre-season NFL game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks on August 29, 2002, Ola Kimrin kicked a 65-yard field goal. However, because pre-season games are not counted toward official records, this accomplishment is not the official record.
All of the above kicks were successful with the use of a kicking tee, which was banned by the NCAA after the 1988 season.
The longest known drop-kicked field goal in college football was a 62-yard kick from Pat O'Dea, an Australian kicker who played on the Wisconsin Badgers football team. O'Dea's kick took place in a blizzard against Northwestern on November 15, 1898.
The longest field goal in U Sports football history is 59 yards, by Niko Difonte of Calgary Dinos, playing against the UBC Thunderbirds on November 11, 2017. The field goal was the final and winning play of the 81st Hardy Cup.
Field goal returns are rare in the NFL, since an attempt with sufficient distance that misses the uprights will automatically be dead. Returns are possible when a field goal is short, but in that case returners will usually down the ball so as to scrimmage from the spot of the kick. Normally, a return will only be attempted when there is not enough time left in the half to run a play from scrimmage. Nevertheless, four field goals have been returned for at least 107 yards in the 21st century (the record set by Antonio Cromartie in 2007 is also the maximum amount of yards that can be achieved on a scoring play):
|Distance returned||Returner||Team||Opposing kicker||Opposing team||Distance attempted||Date||Location|
|109 yards||Antonio Cromartie||San Diego Chargers||Ryan Longwell||Minnesota Vikings||58 yards||November 4, 2007||Metrodome|
|108 yards||Devin Hester||Chicago Bears||Jay Feely||New York Giants||52 yards||November 12, 2006||Giants Stadium|
|108 yards||Nathan Vasher||Chicago Bears||Joe Nedney||San Francisco 49ers||52 yards||November 13, 2005||Soldier Field|
|107 yards||Chris McAlister||Baltimore Ravens||Jason Elam||Denver Broncos||57 yards||September 30, 2002||Ravens Stadium|
Because the goalposts in Canadian football are on the goal line, and because downing the ball in the end zone results in the kicking team scoring a single point, field goal returns are much more common. The longest missed field goal return in the CFL is 131 total yards. Against the Montreal Alouettes on August 22, 1958, the Toronto Argonauts' Boyd Carter ran 15 yards, then threw a lateral to Dave Mann, who then returned it for the final 116 yards. This return, which started 21 yards behind the goal line, was during the era of 25-yard end zones (which made the maximum theoretical missed field return distance 134 yards in those days) and therefore cannot be met or exceeded on the modern field with 20-yard end zones. Since the shortening of the end zones in the CFL in 1986, a field goal has been returned for the maximum 129 yards on four occasions: by Bashir Levingston of the Toronto Argonauts on June 28, 2007, by Dominique Dorsey also of the Toronto Argonauts on August 2, 2007, by Tristan Jackson of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on July 14, 2012  and by Trent Guy of the Montreal Alouettes on September 23, 2012.
In NCAA college football, only five missed field goals returns for touchdowns have ever been returned 100 yards or more:
In U Sports football, like in the CFL, the longest possible missed field goal return is 129 yards, and this has occurred three times.
The NFL allows the use of tees as high as 3 inches for kickoffs, but has never allowed them for field goals and PATs. The pro league, which began to declare its independence from the college game with a number of rules changes beginning in the mid-1930s, also has refused to widen the goal posts.
For place kicks (field goal and convert attempts) the kicking tee platform or block can be no higher than one inch in height as per Rule 5, Section 1, Article 3 of the CFL Rulebook. For kickoffs, the ball may be held or placed on a tee such that the lowest part of the ball is no higher than three inches off the ground; Kicking tees are not required to be used. Kickers may kick off the ground if they desire.