As fans of Football, you often see scores to be in increments of seven or three, for example, 17-24 is a very common score in today's league. But in certain situations, you come across random, unusual scores like 5-11.
Why is that?
That is because of a safety putting up points for the team who accomplished such a play.
After scoring a touchdown you can nominate to go for two extra points rather than one, leading to an eight-point gain (touchdown + 2pt conversion) rather than the more common seven-point gain (touchdown + extra point kick).
But how do teams get two points without scoring a touchdown? That would be called getting a safety.
A safety in American football is when a defender tackles the ball carrier in the opposing team's endzone, or when the ball is declared dead whilst being in the offense's own endzone.
Another way to gain safety is to run the ball carrier out of bounds in the offense's own endzone. Whether that is pushing them out of bounds, or the offensive ball carrier making a large mistake and running themselves out of bounds.
To continue, if the ball is declared dead in the endzone but the play resulted in an incomplete forward pass, the safety will not be counted, as an incomplete forward pass negates the rule. But in any other situation, a safety would be counted.
The illustrious need to win football games at any level can be decided from a single point to coming back from very large deficits.
So, how many points will scoring a safety get you?
A safety is worth two points for the team that forces the ball carrier to either be tackled or the ball to be declared dead in the offense's endzone.
To also add on, the team that did NOT score the safety will have to punt the ball to the team that DID.
To build off what was said before, the aftermath of a safety is nearly as valuable as scoring one in itself.
After a safety occurs, the team that just scored a safety will receive the ball from the opposing team's kick/punt team, which starts at their own 20 yard-line. They have three alternatives for the free-kick, punt, dropkick (not frequently utilized in the modern game), or placekick without a kicking tee. Their offense will go out and try to score a touchdown or field goal like normal.
Scoring two points is obviously a very good thing in such a close and competitive sport, but the stoppage of the opposing team scoring and then yourself getting the ball to give yourself to drive down and score is extremely valuable.
This can result in upwards of an 18-point swing;
Without the safety, the offense can go down and score a touchdown and a 2-pt conversion, leading to 8 points for the opposing team. Then losing out on the two points from the safety and the possession (which could lead you to score 8 points), will lead to no large point swings in the defense's favor.
In the older days of football, scoring was much rarer, as forward passes, which are now the most effective way to score, were not legalized in football.
With that being said, the term "safety" was coined because it was a safe way for the offense to make sure they do not risk and throw the game away.
Why is it safer to give the opposition points during this time?
Rather than risking a fumble near your own endzone, or a blocked punt in/near your own endzone, it's much easier and safer to down (or declare the ball dead) in your own endzone.
Why? This is because a fumble in your endzone is 6 points for the team. The same goes with a blocked punt in your own endzone. In low-scoring affairs in the pre-modern age of football, giving the team two points rather than an easy 6 is obviously the safer bet.
Seeing safeties on television is quite rare now, as high-scoring offenses are more and more prevalent. But when they do happen they catch us fans by surprise, and wondering "what just happened?".
To reiterate, a safety is a two-point gain for the defense when the offense has the ball dead in their own endzone or when the offensive ball-carrier is tackled in their endzone.
Safeties are an important part of the NFL's history as it was at one point a prevalent and prominent strategy for offenses to ensure they minimalize disaster.
All in all, without the interesting two-point swings, NFL scores would be much blander, and the history of the NFL would be just a little less rich than it is.