Returning A Missed Field Goal For A Touchdown

Steven Hauschka - August 5, 2009
Creative Commons License photo credit: jeffweese

One of the more interesting plays in football is the return of a missed field goal. It hasn’t always been a part of football, but many different leagues have at different times had rules regarding the return of a missed field goal.

Most missed field goals end up in the stands or bouncing around behind the endzone. Sometimes though, particularly when the field goal attempt is coming from far away, the kick will actually be short and fall in play. At this point, a defensive player can either catch it or pick it up and return it, similar to returning a punt.

In history, only 19 times has a missed field goal been returned for a touchdown.

The last time this happened, it also ended up being the record for the longest touchdown return ever. Antonio Cromartie of San Diego Chargers returned a missed field goal as far as anyone possibly can, 109 yards, for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

Other interesting facts regarding missed field goal returns for touchdowns.

-Only one player eventually voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame returned a missed field goal for a touchdown, Lem Barney did it for the Detroit Lions in a loss against the San Franciso 49ers in 1968. This would be the only touchdown scored by Detroit that day.

-Though it has only happened 19 times, two players have done it twice. Carl Taseff, of the Baltimore Colts, did it the first time in 1956 in a loss to the Chicago Bears. He did it for the second time in his career in 1959 in a win over the Los Angeles Rams. Al Nelson of the Philadelphia Eagles also did it twice. First in 1966 in a win over the Cleveland Browns and then again in 1971 in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

-The Chicago Bears did it in back to back years with different players. Both going for the same distance, 108 yards, the first setting the record for longest return and the second one tying that record (before it would later be broken). In 2005, Nathan Vasher returned his against the 49ers in a 17-9 Bears victory. The next season, in 2006, Devin Hester would get his chance and return one for a touchdown in a 38-20 win over the New York Giants.

-The team to have had the most returned field goals for touchdowns is the Philadelphia Eagles. Aside from the two returned by Al Nelson that are noted above, Timmy Brown also did it in 1962 in a loss against the St. Louis Cardinals.

-The shortest returned field goal for a touchdown by far happened in a 1961 AFL game when Mark Johnston of the Houston Oilers returned one of just 62 yards in a 45-14 win over the Denver Broncos.

-The team to have had this happen to them the most times is the Denver Broncos. Three times they have had missed field goals returned for touchdowns against them. The first one happened in 1961 in a loss to the Houston Oilers. It happened again the next year in 1962 in a loss to the Boston Patriots. Then it happened for a third time four decades later in 2002 in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

-When Ron Burton of the Boston Patriots returned a missed field goal for a touchdown in a 1962 game against the Denver Broncos, it happened in the fourth quarter, and gave his team the win. This is the only time in history that a returned missed field goal was the game winning play.

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