When a ball carrier has possession in the field of play, and carries the ball toward the end zone, the requirement for scoring a touchdown is that the ball cross the plane of the goal line. The position of the player's body parts is irrelevant, so long as he is not out-of-bounds, or down.

For a pass play, a receiver must have control of the ball with either two feet down, or equivalent (e.g. one knee down). But, to be considered a touchdown, does the ball not still need to break the plane of the goal line, even if the receiver gets two feet down in the end zone, with control?

In today's San Francisco / Philadelphia game, Stevie Johnson was awarded a touchdown on a great catch, where he came back to the ball, and got two feet down in the very front corner of the end zone, while falling out of bounds.

(http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2014092809/2014/REG4/eagles@49ers#menu=gameinfo%7CcontentId%3A0ap3000000402398&tab=videos ... Wk 4 Can't Miss Play: Stevie Wonder)

Given the angle that his body fell (back toward the line of scrimmage and toward the sideline), where the ball in his hands landed as he hit the ground (the 1 yard line), and the proximity of his feet to the front corner of the end zone, it seems to me like this should not have been called a touchdown, with the ball instead being placed on the half yard line (ish).

Am I misunderstanding a nuance of the rule for catches in the end zone? Does it matter that the player established his body in the end zone before coming back to the ball? Is this just an instance of announcers and officials not noticing something that usually isn't an issue? I heard no mention of the question of whether the plane was ever broken on the broadcast, or sports media write-ups of the game. The focus only seemed to be whether a catch was made (which it clearly was).

1 Answer 1


You're not incorrect in your belief; the ball does have to be across the goal line. See the rulebook:

Section 2 Touchdown


Article 1 Touchdown Plays.

A touchdown is scored when:

(a) the ball is on, above, or behind the plane of the opponents’ goal line (extended) and is in possession of a runner who has advanced from the field of play into the end zone; or

(b) a ball in possession of an airborne runner is on, above, or behind the plane of the goal line, and some part of the ball passed over or inside the pylon; or

(c) a ball in player possession touches the pylon, provided that, after contact by an opponent, no part of the player’s body, except his hands or feet, struck the ground before the ball touched the pylon; or

(d) any player who is legally inbounds catches or recovers a loose ball (3-2-3) that is on, above, or behind the opponent’s goal line; or

(e) the Referee awards a touchdown to a team that has been denied one by a palpably unfair act.


(1) The ball is automatically dead when it is in legal possession of a player and is on, above, or behind the opponent’s goal line.

(2) If a player attempts to catch a pass, the ball is not dead, and a touchdown is not scored, until the receiver completes the catch. See Rule 3, Section 2, Article 7.

Unfortunately, that video does not give us the view we would need to correctly identify whether the ball crossed or touched the goal line. I assume the NFL folks upstairs did have this view, and that the ball did cross the goal line, or they would've reviewed the call. From the video you linked, it easily could have gone either way; he was mostly vertical when he made the catch (ie, his hands weren't very far extended in front of him) so it's reasonable to believe the ball may have crossed the plane.

Note: there is one instance where this matters, and that's where the ball crosses the plane (extended) out of bounds. If an airborne runner crosses the goal line, the ball must pass in bounds (over or inside of the pylon). If the receiver/runner is himself in bounds, the ball may be out of bounds when it crosses the extended plane of the goal line. This doesn't seem to matter in this case, but it is relevant to the rule overall.

  • 1
    It is also very possible that they didn't have any angle that would allow them to overturn this call.
    – diggers3
    Sep 29, 2014 at 16:18
  • Given the video above, it seems to me enough for the referee to be buzzed at least and allowed to make up his own mind; but I didn't watch the game so perhaps he was?
    – Joe
    Sep 29, 2014 at 16:35
  • 1
    I don't believe he was. I would think it should have been reviewed, but we'll never know what angles they have/had or what they saw.
    – diggers3
    Sep 29, 2014 at 16:40
  • 1
    Good answer. I think it's entirely reasonable that there wasn't any conclusive angle. I don't believe an angle from directly overhead is ever available on that part of the field. The thing that called my attention was how quickly the play was "accepted", and how there was no discussion of whether the ball ever crossed or not (after "control" criteria had been satisfied). I still think the reviewers simply looked at whether he got his feet down - which he did - and then moved on. Interesting discussion topic, though :)
    – Nate
    Sep 30, 2014 at 21:05
  • Interestingly enough, this exact thing occurred in last night's KC-NE game. At the end of the half, Dwayne Bowe went into the end zone and then came back to catch a pass; I believe his feet were in the end zone when he caught it though there isn't any video available of the catch. They reviewed it to see if the ball was across the plane (their words), and found it had not.
    – Joe
    Sep 30, 2014 at 21:25

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