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I guess it's commonplace to see a football team attempt a field goal on 4th down. Let's say the football team for whatever reason decides to kick it on 2nd or 3rd down and they miss it. Does that attempt count as a down and therefore can have further attempts on making it?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

The attempt counts as a down. However, the kicking team will not have further attempts on making it as possession changes, given that the field-goal attempt is missed as outlined in Rule 11, Section 4, Article 2.

If the field goal is blocked on third down, the 2012 NFL Case Book (page 62) suggests the following scenarios:

A.R. 11.43 MISSED FIELD GOAL—BEHIND THE LINE

Third-and-2 on B10. Team A field-goal attempt from the B17 is blocked and:

  • a) goes out of bounds at the B18; Ruling: B’s ball, first-and-10 on B18.

  • b) is recovered by A2 at the B15 who runs for a touchdown; Ruling: Touchdown Team A. Kickoff A35.

  • c) is recovered simultaneously by A3 and B3 at the B21; Ruling: B’s ball, first-and-10 on B21.

  • d) is recovered by A4 at the B19; Ruling: A’s ball fourth-and-11 on B19.

  • e) is recovered and downed by B2 at the B15; Ruling: B’s ball, first-and-10 on B15.

  • f) goes beyond the line and then returns behind the line, untouched by Team B beyond the line in the field of play, and goes out of bounds at the B16 or is recovered by A2 at the B16. Ruling: B’s ball, first-and-10 on B20.


Rule 11, Section 4, Article 2 (page 58) in the 2012 NFL Rule Book states:

Missed Field Goals.

If there is a missed field-goal attempt, and the ball has not been touched by the receivers beyond the line in the field of play, the following shall apply:

  • (a) If the spot of the kick was inside the receivers’ 20-yard line, it is the receivers’ ball at the 20-yard line or

  • (b) If the spot of the kick was from the receivers’ 20-yard line or beyond the receivers’ 20-yard line, it is the receivers’ ball at the spot of the kick.

Note: These options apply only if the ball has been beyond the line.

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thus it really makes no sense what-so-ever to go for a FG attempt before the 4th down? –  posdef Jan 14 '13 at 7:19
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Suppose a team has 0:10 left in regulation and is on third down. The holder mishandles the snap and recovers the ball at the spot where he was to hold. Although it would be a longer FG, the team can use fourth down to attempt the field goal (as no kick was attempted on third down). –  edmastermind29 Jan 14 '13 at 14:28
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@edmastermind29 Based on the rules, I believe that is true. The team would get an additional down because no kick was made. –  SocioMatt Jan 14 '13 at 14:40
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@edmastermind29 Upvote for adding the rule dealing with missed field goals. –  SocioMatt Jan 14 '13 at 14:51
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@posdef: The Tony Romo fumble was on a fourth down kick, but if it had been third down, he could have just fallen on the ball and they could have tried again. (Of course, with over a minute left, no one would ever kick on third down.) –  Michael Myers Jan 14 '13 at 16:57
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If the offense attempts a field goal before fourth down and misses, the ball is turned over to the defending team. Rule 11, Section 4, Article 2 of the NFL rulebook:

Missed Field Goals. If there is a missed field-goal attempt, and the ball has not been touched by the receivers beyond the line in the field of play, the following shall apply:

(a) If the spot of the kick was inside the receivers’ 20-yard line, it is the receivers’ ball at the 20-yard line or

(b) If the spot of the kick was from the receivers’ 20-yard line or beyond the receivers’ 20-yard line, it is the receivers’ ball at the spot of the kick.

Note: These options apply only if the ball has been beyond the line.

For the wording here, the receiving team is the defense (the team that is receiving the kick). If the kicker misses the field goal on first, second, or third down, the ball is turned over to the opposing team. The kicking team does not get additional attempts. This is why teams rarely go for a field goal on anything except fourth down. There are cases where this may be important (e.g.: 3 seconds left in the game, down by 2 points, and the team is in field goal range on second down. The team is kicking in this situation).

There are a lot of extra rules and exceptions based on where the ball lands if it misses and stays on the field and whether the ball is touched by the defending team, but in every case the non-kicking team ends up with possession of the ball.

Edit:

If the kick is blocked or aborted (e.g.: the holder fumbles on the snap), possession will not change as long as the kicking team recovers the ball. This will give them another chance. In this case, it is not considered a missed field goal and Rule 11, Section 4, Article 2 does not apply.

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@edmastermind29 You're right - I was just dealing with misses, not blocks. In the case of blocked kicks and aborted kicks, the kicking team can retain possession if they recover the ball. –  SocioMatt Jan 14 '13 at 14:43
    
Understood. Carry on. –  edmastermind29 Jan 14 '13 at 14:44
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+1 for explaining the understanding behind why FGs are rare outside of 4th down. –  edmastermind29 Jan 14 '13 at 14:56
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If a field goal is missed (on any down) the ball is given to the opponent at the line of scrimmage. Not where the kick was taken! Where the ball was snapped. However, if the ball was fumbled and did not go out of the boundaries of the field, the ball would be given to the team that recovered it. This team would receive the ball where it was recovered.

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Your point about spotting the ball after a missed field goal is only correct for NCAA. In the NFL, after a missed field goal the ball is indeed spotted where the kick was actually taken. –  Steely Dan Nov 11 '13 at 3:49
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