Understanding the Distinction: Does a Touchdown Count as a First Down in Football?

John Rizzo

Does a Touchdown Count as a First Down in Football

Football is a complex sport with intricate rules that can sometimes leave even ardent fans scratching their heads. One common source of confusion revolves around the terms “touchdown” and “first down.” 

While they both play pivotal roles in the game, they are distinct concepts with unique implications for a team’s offensive strategy. 

In this post, we aim to shed light on this often-misunderstood aspect does a touchdown count as a first down in football?

We will explore the definitions of touchdowns and first downs, clarifying when each occurs, their significance, and how they shape offensive strategies. 

This fundamental distinction is crucial for appreciating the strategic depth of football and following the game with greater clarity. Stay focused. 

What Is a Touchdown?

A touchdown is a fundamental scoring play in American football and Canadian football. 

It occurs when a player carrying or receiving the football successfully crosses the opponent’s goal line with the ball in their possession. This accomplishment earns the team six points. 

To achieve a touchdown, offensive players often utilize a combination of running and passing plays, while defensive players aim to prevent the opposing team from reaching the end zone. 

After scoring a touchdown, the team can choose to attempt an extra point kick or a two-point conversion, which can yield additional points. 

Touchdowns are crucial in determining the outcome of a game and are a source of excitement for fans.

What Is A First Down?

A first down is a fundamental concept in American football and Canadian football. 

It represents a fresh set of four opportunities (or downs) for the offensive team to advance the football and gain at least the specified yardage required to earn another first down. 

To achieve a first down, the offensive team must typically advance the football 10 yards from the spot of the previous down.

If they successfully gain the necessary yardage, the down marker is reset to “1st and 10,” indicating a new set of downs. If they fail to reach the required yardage, it results in a turnover, and the opposing team gains possession. 

First downs are crucial for maintaining offensive drives, extending possessions, and ultimately advancing to the opponent’s end zone to score points.

The Relationship Between Touchdowns and First Downs

The Relationship Between Touchdowns and First Downs

Touchdowns and first downs are interconnected in American football and Canadian football, both playing crucial roles in an offense’s progression down the field:

Progression Toward the End Zone

First downs are essential for an offense to continue moving down the field. Each time a team achieves a first down, they gain a fresh set of four downs to advance the ball. 

This progression is vital for getting closer to the opponent’s end zone.

Scoring a Touchdown

The ultimate goal of an offensive drive is to score a touchdown. To do this, the team needs to advance the ball into the opponent’s end zone. 

Typically, a successful drive involves multiple first downs, as the offense incrementally moves down the field, attempting to reach the end zone.

Yardage and Field Position

First downs are earned by gaining a specific amount of yardage (usually 10 yards) from the previous line of scrimmage. 

Gaining first downs not only gets the offense closer to scoring position but also helps in maintaining a favorable field position, making it easier to attempt a touchdown.


Coaches and offensive coordinators strategize to achieve first downs consistently. 

Shorter, high-percentage plays may be used to secure first downs, while more aggressive and longer plays may be called when the offense gets closer to the end zone, aiming for a touchdown.

First downs are the building blocks of an offensive drive, allowing the team to advance down the field and ultimately position themselves to score touchdowns.

Does a Touchdown Count as a First Down in Football?

Does a Touchdown Count as a First Down in Football?

No, a touchdown does not count as a first down in football.

In football, the two concepts are distinct:


A touchdown occurs when a player with possession of the football crosses the opponent’s goal line, which is typically located at the end of the field. 

It results in the scoring of six points for the offensive team, and it signifies a successful drive ending in a score.

First Down

A first down is a measurement of progress during an offensive possession. It represents the achievement of a specific yardage gain (usually 10 yards) from the line of scrimmage. 

When a team gains the necessary yardage, they are awarded a new set of downs (usually four) to continue their drive. It allows the offense to continue advancing down the field.

While both touchdowns and first downs contribute to an offensive team’s success, they serve different purposes and have distinct criteria. 

Gaining a first down is a step toward scoring a touchdown, but they are not interchangeable terms in football.

The Role of Touchdowns in Shaping Offensive Strategies

The Role of Touchdowns in Shaping Offensive Strategies

Touchdowns play a central role in shaping offensive strategies in American football and Canadian football. Here’s how:

Primary Objective

The ultimate goal of an offensive strategy is to score touchdowns. Touchdowns are the most valuable form of scoring, earning a team six points plus the potential for extra points or a two-point conversion. 

Offensive strategies are designed to advance the ball efficiently and effectively toward the opponent’s end zone to increase the chances of scoring a touchdown.

Red Zone Tactics

When an offense approaches the opponent’s red zone (the area close to the end zone), the strategy often changes. 

Teams may employ different plays and formations to maximize their chances of scoring a touchdown within a shorter field. This includes utilizing goal-line packages and pass plays designed for tight spaces.

Balancing Run and Pass

Offensive strategies need to strike a balance between running and passing plays. 

Running plays can help control the clock, gain yardage, and set up scoring opportunities while passing plays can quickly advance the ball down the field, especially in critical situations when time is limited.

Exploiting Weaknesses

Offensive coordinators analyze the opponent’s defense to identify weaknesses and mismatches that can be exploited to create touchdown opportunities. This may involve targeting specific defensive players or areas of the field.

Game Situation

Offensive strategies can vary depending on the game situation. When a team is trailing and needs to catch up, they may employ more pass-heavy strategies to move the ball quickly and score touchdowns. 

Conversely, when leading, they may prioritize clock management and ball control to secure the win.

Two-Point Conversions

After scoring a touchdown, teams have the option to attempt a two-point conversion instead of an extra-point kick. 

Offensive strategies include plays specifically designed for these situations, as successful two-point conversions can be crucial for narrowing point differentials or tying games.

Touchdowns are the ultimate objective in football, and offensive strategies are tailored to maximize the chances of scoring them. 

Coaches and offensive coordinators develop diverse playbooks and adapt their strategies based on the game situation, field position, opponent’s defense, and other factors to achieve this critical goal.

When to Prioritize First Downs over Touchdowns, and Vice Versa?

The decision to prioritize first downs over touchdowns or vice versa in football depends on several factors, including the game situation, field position, time on the clock, and the team’s overall strategy. 

Here’s when each might take precedence:

Prioritizing First Downs

  • Field Position: When a team is deep in their territory (far from the opponent’s end zone), the primary focus is often on gaining first downs. The goal is to move the ball into a more favorable field position before attempting to score a touchdown.
  • Time Management: In situations where there is limited time on the clock and the team is trailing, the priority may shift to gaining first downs quickly to preserve time for a potential touchdown drive later in the game.
  • Protecting a Lead: If a team has a lead, they may prioritize first downs to control the clock and maintain possession of the football. This strategy limits the opponent’s opportunities to score.
  • Field Goal Range: If a team is within field goal range but not close to the end zone, they might focus on gaining first downs to get even closer to a higher-percentage field goal attempt.

Prioritizing Touchdowns

  • Red Zone: When an offense is in the red zone (inside the opponent’s 20-yard line), the emphasis often shifts to scoring a touchdown. The field is shorter, and touchdown opportunities become more valuable.
  • Late in the Game: In late-game situations, especially when a team is trailing and time is running out, the priority is to score a touchdown quickly to close the point gap or take the lead.
  • Exploiting Defensive Weaknesses: If an offense identifies a specific weakness in the opponent’s defense, they may prioritize touchdown attempts to capitalize on the mismatch.
  • Two-Minute Drills: During a hurry-up offense or two-minute drill, the focus is on gaining chunk yardage and scoring quickly, typically aiming for a touchdown.

The decision to prioritize first downs or touchdowns depends on the specific game circumstances and the team’s overall strategy.


Does scoring a touchdown count as earning a first down in football?

No, scoring a touchdown and earning a first down are distinct concepts in football. 

Scoring a touchdown means crossing the opponent’s goal line, while a first down is achieved by gaining a specific yardage (usually 10 yards) from the line of scrimmage to continue the offensive drive.

Can a team earn a first down by scoring a touchdown?

No, a touchdown does not grant a team a first down. The first downs are based on yardage gained, not scoring. 

To earn a first down, an offense must advance the ball the required distance from the line of scrimmage during a drive.

How does a team earn a first down in football?

A team earns a first down in football by advancing the ball the necessary yardage (typically 10 yards) from the line of scrimmage. 

Once achieved, they receive a new set of downs to continue their offensive possession.

What is the significance of first downs in football?

First downs are crucial for maintaining offensive drives. They provide additional opportunities to move the ball down the field and eventually score a touchdown. 

Successful first downs help control the clock, field position, and offensive momentum.

Are touchdowns and first downs related in any way?

Touchdowns and first downs are related in the sense that gaining first downs is a key step toward scoring touchdowns. 

Offensive drives typically involve multiple first downs as teams move closer to the opponent’s end zone, aiming to ultimately score a touchdown.

Wrapping Up

In football, touchdowns and first downs are two critical components that drive the excitement of the sport. While they share the common goal of advancing the ball down the field, they serve distinct purposes within the game. 

Touchdowns are the ultimate objective, the key to scoring points and winning games. In contrast, first downs are the building blocks, the incremental gains that keep offensive drives alive. 

By grasping the difference between these terms, fans and enthusiasts can deepen their understanding of football and truly appreciate the intricacies of this beloved sport. Thank you so much. 

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn