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What is a Safety in Football?

what is a safety in football

Football has strategic complexities and scoring opportunities that significantly impact the game’s course. One of the more decisive and thrilling elements is safety. But what exactly is safety in American football, and why is it such a critical element of the game? 

Definition of a Safety

A safety in football is a scoring play that occurs when the offensive team is tackled or commits a specific foul in its end zone. This type of play awards the defensive team 2 points—a rarity in a game where scores typically come in increments of 3 (field goals) or 6 points (touchdowns).

The Importance of Safeties

Understanding safeties is crucial for players and fans since these do not just add points to the scoreboard; they often influence the game’s momentum. Safeties make for emotionally charged moments, representing a significant victory for the defence and a daunting setback for the offence. Not only do they contribute to the dynamic strategy of the sport, but they also showcase the depth and intricacies of the game that enthusiasts so greatly appreciate.

Rules and Conditions Leading to a Safety

There are specific rules and contexts in which safety can occur:

  • The offensive player holding the ball is tackled within their end zone.
  • The offensive team commits a foul in their end zone, such as intentional grounding or a holding penalty on a play that begins in the field of play.
  • A snapped or fumbled ball goes out of bounds in the offensive team’s end zone.

After a safety is scored, the team that conceded the safety must execute a free kick from their 20-yard line, granting the scoring team what’s often a favourable field position.

Impact on Strategy and Game Momentum

Safeties cause a significant shift in-game strategy and momentum. They serve as turning points in games, with the capacity to empower the defence while simultaneously demoralizing the offence. The scoring team gains not only in terms of points but often also in terms of energy and morale. The conceding team must not only face the deficit and the loss of the ball but also rebound from the psychological toll of such a critical mistake.

Famous Examples of Safeties in Football Games

  • The iconic 2014 Super Bowl witnessed the Seahawks earn a safety against the Broncos within the opening seconds, presaging what would be a historically dominant victory.
  • The New England Patriots gained two points from a safety against the New York Jets 2019 when the quarterback’s intentional grounding penalty occurred within his end zone.
  • The unforgettable 2013 Iron Bowl included a safety-avoidance manoeuvre that turned into a miraculous game-winning play for the Auburn Tigers against their archrival, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Unique Perspective: The Psychological Impact of Safeties

A safety may appear as a two-point score to the casual observer. However, the rhythm of an intense game has a psychological effect that extends beyond the scoreboard. The safety can demoralize the conceding team while providing an emotional surge for the scoring team and their supporters. It can pivot the psychological battleground in football, often injecting adrenaline that shifts the game’s trajectory.


What happens immediately after a safety is scored in football?

After scoring a safety, the team that conceded the safety must perform a free kick from their 20-yard line. This allows the scoring team to gain possession with a potentially favourable field position.

Can the offensive team score a safety?

No, safety is awarded to the defensive team when specific actions involve the offensive team in their end zone.

Are safeties standard in football games?

While less common than touchdowns or field goals, safeties occur with enough frequency to be considered a significant part of the game’s strategy. Their impact on the scoreboard and game momentum makes them notable moments in football.

How are safeties awarded in terms of points?

Safeties award 2 points to the defensive team, making them one of the few scoring plays in football that does not follow the standard increments of 3 or 6 points.

What psychological impact do safeties have on teams?

Safeties can have a considerable psychological impact on both teams. The scoring team offers an emotional and momentum boost. For the team, conceding safety can be demoralizing, impacting the players’ morale and the game’s psychological landscape.


The safety encapsulates the drama and unpredictability that make football an enthralling spectator sport. Its rarity, impact on strategy, and psychological weight underscore why safeties are feared and celebrated in the game. Understanding this play is to appreciate one of the many nuances that make American football more than a game of touchdowns and field goals—it’s a chess match that requires mastery of both the mind and the gridiron.

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