To score a touchdown, one team must take the into the opposite end zone. The touchdown is scored the instant the ball crosses the plane of the goal line (that is, if any part of the ball is in the space on, above, or across the goal line) while in possession of a player whose team is trying to score in that end zone. The play is dead and the touchdown scores the moment the ball crosses the goal line in possession of a player, or the moment the ball comes into possession of an offensive player in the end zone (having established possession by controlling the ball and having both feet or another part of the body, excluding the hands, touch the ground). The slightest part of the ball being over the goal line is sufficient for a touchdown to score. However, only the ball counts, not a player's helmet, foot, or any other part of the body. Touching one of the pylons at either end of the goal line with the ball constitutes "breaking the plane" as well.
Touchdowns are usually scored by the offense by or passing the ball. However, the defense can also score a touchdown if they have recovered a fumble or made an interception and return it to the opposing end zone. Special teams can score a touchdown on a or punt return, or on a return after a missed or blocked attempt or blocked . In short, any play in which a player legally carries the ball across the goal line scores a touchdown, and the manner in which he gained possession is inconsequential. In the NFL, a touchdown may be awarded by the referee as a penalty for a "palpably unfair act," such as a player coming off the bench during a play and tackling the runner, who would otherwise have scored.
A touchdown is worth six points. The scoring team is also awarded the opportunity for an or a two-point conversion. Afterwards, the team that scored the touchdown to the opposing team, if there is any time left.
Unlike a try scored in , and contrary to the event's name, the ball does not need to touch the ground when the player and the ball are inside the end zone, although in gridiron's early days the ball was required to be touched to the ground as in rugby, as rugby and gridiron were extremely similar sports at this point. This rule was changed to the modern-day iteration in 1889.