As I understand it, if a team intercepts the football in the end zone and is then tackled or falls, it is a touchback and the ball is moved to the 25.

However, if the player who makes the interception tries to run for it and gets tackled at the 1 or 2, then his team would get stuck there.

So, it seems that if a player makes an interception in the end zone, then the best move would be to just fall down to take the touchback. Is that right?

  • @LoganBaxter Well, I don't know if what I am hypothesizing is correct or not. Feb 5, 2018 at 3:19
  • It does depend if anyone is outside the end zobe to tackle you or not, of course. There have been long run backs from the end zone.
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 5, 2018 at 3:39
  • A polite reminder: comments are for suggestions to improve the question, if you're answering the question, please write an actual answer instead.
    – Philip Kendall
    Feb 5, 2018 at 8:36

2 Answers 2


It Depends

Falling down, taking a knee or being tackled in the end zone does lock in your team's starting position at the 20-yard line by rule of touchback, however returning an interception can yield a range of possible starting points anything between the goal-line up to the 20-yard line is sub-optimal and any return beyond the 20 is optimal. So a return gives a likely expected value of less than 20 yards, but there is a chance for a larger gain.

Some cases when it always makes sense to take the touch back and start at the 20:

  1. Late in a game and protecting a lead, you do not want to risk getting a safety and having to give the ball back to your opponent - take a knee
  2. There are several opposing players near you making it unlikely you will make it past the 20.
  3. You are slow and not likely to make it past the 20.

Some cases where you should try and return the ball:

  1. There is no or little time left on the clock at halftime (or at the end of the game when you are behind ) - returning the ball may not get you past the 20, but if time is expiring taking the touchback doesn't matter - at least returning the interception gives you a chance - this happened in Super Bowl XLII (43) when James Harrison returned a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown - he gave his team 7 points. Taking a knee would have resulted in time expiring a play later.
  2. There is no one around you and you have a good chance to return it past the 20. Say you are 1 on 1 with the receiver who falls down and no one else is near you - there is a higher probability that you can make it past the 20.

So the answer is IT DEPENDS. There is no variation when you take the touchback and choosing to return the ball should be based on situation of the game and your likelihood of getting better than 20 yards on your return.


One other situation where you should certainly attempt the run back is during an extra point attempt. Whatever happens, the next play is a kick off so you are not risking bad field position so, in essence there is nothing to lose and everything (well 2 points and some brownie points) to gain.

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