At the end of the controversial Green Bay Packers/Seattle Seahawks game on Monday night, the Seahawks were awarded a touchdown as time expired that gave them a 13-12 point lead. In the ensuing confusion of the referee's decision, the Green Bay Packers left the field. Eventually, the referees had the Seahawks and the Packers come back and line up for the (meaningless) extra point play, and then the game was over.

Did the Green Bay Packers have to defend that? It seems like the Seahawks could have run that play without the defense if the referees set the ball down and started the play clock. Is there a minimum number of defensive players that have to be on the field for a play to be run?

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    There have been times where teams left the field after a game ending TD with out ever playing the meaning less PAT. The officials have just declared the game over. – Chad Sep 26 '12 at 18:59
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    The PAT isn't necessarily meaningless: some of the NFL tiebreakers depend on points scored. Similarly, players may have incentives in their contracts for points scored, kicks blocked etc. – Philip Kendall Mar 25 '15 at 10:31
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    In theory the Packers could score a safety in the play, changing the score to their favor. – Joshua Nov 23 '15 at 23:02
  • Similar question: sports.stackexchange.com/questions/17705/… – Patrick Szalapski May 30 '18 at 21:52

From the NFL rulebook, Rule 5, Section 1, Article 1:

The game is played by two teams of 11 players each. If a snap, free kick, or fair-catch kick is made while a team has fewer than 11 players on the field of play or the end zone, the ball is in play, and there is no penalty.

So from a technical standpoint, the Packers did not have to field any players, as they would not have received a penalty for not having 11 players on the field. They may have been hit with an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty, although since the game was over, it wouldn't have meant much. Rule 5, Section 2, Article 11 (emphasis mine):

Using entering substitutions, legally returning players, substitutions on sidelines, or withdrawn players to confuse opponents, or lingering players leaving the field when being replaced by a substitute, is unsportsmanlike conduct.

However, I doubt that fielding no players because of frustration would qualify as confusing opponents. Bringing the team back to defend the extra point was about Mike McCarthy's integrity. He wanted to stay professional despite miscommunications at the end of the game. McCarthy later stated:

We're in tune with staying true to the integrity of the Green Bay Packers. How we conduct ourselves, being professional during a tough time, during a challenge, a different challenge, but I'm excited about overcoming it. I look at this as an opportunity to put another feather in our cap.

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  • So, is the implication that the officials should technically never wait nor call delay of game when the defense isn't ready? Thus the officials erred in the Packers game (or in the 2018-01-14 game between Minnesota and New Orleans)? If they should call a penalty or wait, what rule applies? – Patrick Szalapski May 30 '18 at 21:55
  • @PatrickSzalapski no source other than hearing the rule being stated during games, but the offense, if it substitutes, must give the defense a chance to match their players. This is to prevent a team from completely changing personnel and leaving the defense with the wrong players in the game. – user16493 Dec 18 '18 at 20:13
  • This answer simply isn't true. Another case were annotated answers are blindly accepted on the site. Not fielding a team for a game comes with hefty hefty penalties in the NFL and could be cause for exemption from playoffs, losing draft picks, or just a huge fine. The team must try to field 11 the entire game in the NFL - this isn't about McCarthy trying to prove integrity - if he was doing that he wouldn't have had everyone run off. This is about the refs telling McCarthy - we aren't finishing game until you get 11 out there. – Coach-D Oct 16 '19 at 16:33
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    @Coach-D Can you provide an example where the league handed down "hefty hefty penalties" such as "exemption from playoffs, losing draft picks, or just a huge fine" for a team failing to field 11 players? – SocioMatt Oct 17 '19 at 12:32
  • @SocioMatt - this is common knowledge of the means referees have to get coaches to get their players back on the field for things like this. It happens in the NFL and college a few times a year. You don't think the coach is like "F off ref, they won"... then the ref is like, you don't give me 11 out there you will be hearing from the league. The NFL doesn't care to put this in writing so someone can copy and paste it into SE... – Coach-D Jan 14 at 20:40

As of 2018, kicking an extra-point after a game winning touchdown as time expires is not required. This was a result of the "Minneapolis Miracle," where eleven Saints players had to come onto the field for the kneel on the extra-point.

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For 2019 and later rule 4-8-2c was added so that the game can end without the PAT attempt taking place.

Prior to 2019, Rule 5-1-1 stated that "The game is played by two teams of 11 players each...it is not a foul if a team has fewer than 11 players on the field." The term "team" is not defined in Rule 3, but it seems that a team must have at least one player willing to play, if not two, to be called a team by any reasonable definition of the English word "team". If no members of the team on defense are present, then we must conclude that the team is not present, thus the game cannot be played per Rule 5-1-1, so there would be no foul possible.

(Of course, in the general case, one can imagine the opponent might be awarded a win by forfeit, but the forfeit is not a "game" decision governed by the rules, but rather a league decision.)

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Since this is an old question and since this does not currently have a right answer I will summarize this.

  1. All rule requirements for players on a field beyond 7 players on the LoS on offense are league mandates and bylaws.
  2. Every league has its own bylaws and subrules and these are often not publicly available or they are just "spirits of the rule" where commissioner decides.
  3. No game is over until the last play is finished.
  4. If a football team left the field before a game was over (even for one play) they would be under heavy scrutiny and almost certainly sanctioned by the league they are in.
  5. The referees using league bylaws have the discretion of making decisions on the field.

What this means is that the referee could require a few players or 11 players to be on the field on defense. If a team refused to do whatever the head referee asked then the game would end in forfeit (it happens in college and high school - not often but happens).

I can tell you right now that if an NFL team ends a game in a forfeit it will include sanctions on that team up to the owner. Any NFL team can leave the field and pout about whatever. There is no "rule" in writing against this. But it would probably include one of the most drastic penalties ever (draft picks, money, ownership suspension, coach suspension...).

So to be clear the answer is - a team has to field whatever number of players a referee determines to be the minimum on the field or the game will be a forfeit.


For 2019 and later rule 4-8-2c was added so that the game can end without the PAT attempt taking place.

Patrick is right in his answer on this. However the interpretation has nothing to do with the question. The question is, "Does the defense have to defend the extra point?" Rule 4-8-2c is a rule that allows the offensive team to skip the extra point after the game is over. It has nothing to do with this question - at all.

If the offense decides to take the field the defense is required based on the bylaws of the league to field a team or they would be forfeiting the game. As I have mentioned the forfeiture of a game is probably so steep of a penalty compared to getting your guys on the field that it would just never happen in the NFL.

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  • The question is clearly about the NFL, not any other league. You have been previously asked to justify your claims that "hefty hefty" or "drastic" penalties would be applied, yet you provide nothing at all to support this. Meanwhile, other answers you claim must not be right have cited rules stating explicitly that extra point attempts are not required of a team who scores a game-winning touchdown after time expires. – Nij Jan 15 at 4:56

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