Why Do They Call It First And Goal In American Football?

John Rizzo

Why Do They Call It First And Goal In American Football

American football, with its intricate rules and terminologies, can sometimes leave newcomers scratching their heads. 

Among the phrases that often raise eyebrows are “First and Goal.” It’s a term frequently heard during televised games and live at stadiums, yet its meaning might not be immediately apparent. 

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the history and significance of “First and Goal” in American football, shedding light on why this phrase is used and what it represents on the field.

As we unravel the origins and purpose behind this term, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the critical role it plays in the sport. 

Whether you’re a dedicated football fan or just curious about the game’s intricacies, this exploration of “First and Goal” will provide you with valuable insights into the heart of American football.

What Is the First and Goal In American Football?

In American football, “First and Goal” is a critical situation that occurs when a team is very close to scoring a touchdown. Specifically, it happens when a team is within 10 yards of the opponent’s goal line. 

In this scenario, the ultimate objective is to advance the football across the opponent’s goal line, which results in a touchdown, worth 6 points. 

The team with possession of the ball gets four attempts, or downs, to achieve this.

First and Goal is a prime scoring opportunity, and it presents several strategic choices for the offensive team. 

They can choose to run the football, pass it, or even attempt a trick play to outmaneuver the defense and reach the end zone. The defense, on the other hand, is determined to stop the offense and prevent them from scoring. 

This situation often leads to intense and suspenseful moments in American football, making it a pivotal part of the game.

Why Do They Call It First And Goal In American Football?

In American football, the term “First and Goal” is used because it describes a specific situation on the field where the offensive team is in a highly advantageous position with respect to scoring a touchdown.

The word “First” indicates the down number, which signifies the first attempt or play that the offensive team has to advance the football and score. 

The word “Goal” refers to the ultimate objective, which is to cross the opponent’s goal line with the football to score a touchdown.

When the offensive team is within 10 yards or very close to the opponent’s goal line, it’s a critical scoring opportunity, and the downs are reset to four, giving the team multiple chances to advance the ball those final few yards. 

This terminology simplifies communication on the field and in broadcasts, making it clear that the team is in a prime position to score a touchdown, and the game’s intensity typically increases during such situations.

Impact of “First and Goal” on the Team’s Offensive Strategy

Impact of "First and Goal" on the Team's Offensive Strategy

“First and Goal” is a pivotal moment in American football that significantly impacts a team’s offensive strategy. Here are some key ways in which this situation influences the offensive approach:

Play Selection

Coaches and offensive coordinators have a wide range of plays to choose from in this scenario. They can opt for running plays, passing plays, or even trick plays. 

The choice often depends on the team’s strengths, the opponent’s defensive weaknesses, and the yardage needed to reach the goal line.

Short-Yardage Plays

Given the proximity to the goal line, teams often use power running plays or quick pass plays designed to gain short yardage efficiently. 

The offensive line and tight ends may focus on creating a strong push to clear a path for the running back or protect the quarterback.

Goal-Line Formations

Teams may use specific goal-line formations, such as the “I-Formation” or “Jumbo Package,” which involve extra blockers like fullbacks, tight ends, or additional linemen to enhance blocking and create scoring opportunities.

Passing Options

While running plays are common close to the goal line, teams may also utilize passing plays, including fade routes, slants, or quick throws, to exploit mismatches and catch the defense off guard.

Read Options

Some teams with mobile quarterbacks may incorporate read-option plays, allowing the quarterback to decide whether to hand off to a running back or keep the ball and run it in themselves, depending on the defensive reaction.


Play-action passes are effective near the goal line as they can deceive the defense, causing defenders to bite on the fake handoff, leaving receivers open for potential touchdown passes.

Clock Management

Teams in “First and Goal” situations also consider the game clock. 

They may choose plays that help manage the clock, either to maximize the time available for additional scoring opportunities or to minimize the time left for the opposing team.

Goal-Line Audibles

Quarterbacks often have the flexibility to audible or change the play at the line of scrimmage based on what they see in the defense, ensuring they exploit the most favorable matchup.

“First and Goal” requires a balanced and calculated offensive strategy that takes into account the remaining downs, field position, time on the clock, and the strengths and weaknesses of both the offense and the defense. 

Effective decision-making and execution are crucial to convert this prime scoring opportunity into a touchdown.

Scoring the First and Goal in American Football

Scoring the First and Goal in American Football

Scoring on a “First and Goal” situation in American football is the ultimate objective for the offensive team. The primary way to score is by reaching the opponent’s end zone, which results in a touchdown worth 6 points. 

Here’s how it typically works:


The play begins with the snap, where the center hikes the ball to the quarterback, who is usually positioned behind the line of scrimmage.

Running Plays

The offense may choose to run the football, attempting to advance it across the goal line by handing it off to a running back or even the quarterback on a designed run play.

Passing Plays

Alternatively, the offensive team can opt for passing plays. The quarterback throws the ball to a receiver who is either open in the end zone or running a route to get open.

Catching and Crossing

In the case of a pass, if the receiver catches the ball with any part of their body in the end zone, it counts as a touchdown. 

Even if they catch it just before the goal line and manage to cross the plane while maintaining possession, it’s still a touchdown.

Extra Point or Two-Point Conversion

After scoring a touchdown, teams have the option to kick an extra point, worth 1 point, by making a field goal from a short distance, or they can attempt a two-point conversion, which involves running or passing the ball into the end zone from a short distance.

Possession Changes

If the offensive team fails to score on their first attempt, they still have three more downs (second, third, and fourth) to try to score a touchdown. 

If they are unsuccessful, possession of the ball is turned over to the opposing team.

Field Goal Option

In some cases, teams may choose to kick a field goal instead of trying for a touchdown, especially if they are close to the goal line but don’t believe they can score a touchdown. A successful field goal is worth 3 points.

Scoring a touchdown on “First and Goal” is the most coveted outcome, as it not only adds 6 points to the scoreboard but also offers a significant psychological advantage. 

The offensive team’s strategy, play-calling, and execution are crucial in achieving this outcome, while the defensive team strives to prevent the touchdown and protect their end zone.

Common Plays During “First and Goal”

Common Plays During "First and Goal"

During a “First and Goal” situation in American football, several common plays are frequently used by offensive teams to try and score a touchdown. 

The choice of play depends on the team’s strengths, the defensive alignment, and the yardage needed to reach the end zone. 

Here are some common plays:

Power Run

Teams may opt for a straightforward power running play, where the running back receives the handoff and follows the offensive line, which is blocking aggressively to create a hole for the runner to power through.

Goal-Line Dive

A quick-hitting run play where the running back takes the handoff and immediately dives forward in an attempt to break through the line and cross the goal line.

Play-Action Pass

The quarterback fakes a handoff to the running back and then drops back to pass. This play can deceive the defense, creating an opportunity for a pass to an open receiver in the end zone.

Fade Route

A passing play where the quarterback throws a high, arcing pass toward the corner of the end zone, targeting a taller receiver who can outjump the defender to make the catch.

Slant Route

In this passing play, a receiver runs a diagonal route toward the middle of the field, aiming to catch a quick pass from the quarterback and gain separation from the defender for a touchdown.


The quarterback fakes a handoff and rolls out to one side of the field, giving them the option to run or pass, often catching the defense off guard.

Quarterback Sneak

The quarterback takes the snap and immediately dives forward, following the surge of the offensive line, to gain a few yards and potentially cross the goal line.

Tight End Fade

Similar to a fade route, but involves a tight end, who uses their size and athleticism to create a mismatch and become a target for the quarterback in the end zone.

Screen Pass

A pass play where the quarterback throws a short pass to a running back or receiver near the line of scrimmage, with the intention of using blockers to advance the ball into the end zone.

Trick Plays

On occasion, teams may employ trick plays like reverses, double passes, or option plays to catch the defense off guard and score a touchdown.

The choice of play during “First and Goal” depends on various factors, including the team’s offensive strategy, the skills of the players, the defensive alignment, and the situation in the game. 

Teams often practice these plays extensively to execute them effectively in high-pressure situations near the opponent’s goal line.


Why is it called “First and Goal” in American football?

“First and Goal” signifies a crucial point in the game where the offensive team is within 10 yards of the opponent’s goal line and has four downs to score a touchdown, making it the first down in a series of goal-oriented plays.

What is the significance of “First and Goal” in football?

“First and Goal” indicates a prime scoring opportunity near the end zone. It’s a pivotal moment where the offensive team aims to cross the goal line for a touchdown, resulting in 6 points.

Can a team score on the first play of “First and Goal”?

Yes, a team can score on the first play of “First and Goal” if they successfully advance the football across the opponent’s goal line, either through a run or a pass, resulting in a touchdown.

What happens if a team doesn’t score on “First and Goal”?

If a team doesn’t score on “First and Goal,” they have additional attempts on the second, third, and fourth downs to try and score a touchdown or opt for a field goal if necessary.

Are there any other ways to score besides a touchdown on “First and Goal”?

Yes, besides a touchdown, a team can choose to kick a field goal on “First and Goal,” which is worth 3 points. However, the primary goal in this situation is to score a touchdown, as it yields the maximum 6 points.

Wrapping Up

In the world of American football, understanding the significance of “First and Goal” is like deciphering a secret code. 

It represents a pivotal moment where teams vie to reach the end zone, and the term itself reflects the game’s strategic depth. 

Now armed with this knowledge, you can watch games with a clearer perspective, appreciating the intensity and strategy that unfold every time a team finds themselves in this unique and exciting situation. 

So, next time you hear “First and Goal,” you’ll not only know what it means but also appreciate the rich history and strategy behind this iconic phrase in American football.

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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