Question about stopping the clock in football

I was watching an NFL game weekend before last (sorry, I forget which one… maybe the Colts were involved?) and a receiver caught the ball near the middle of the field in a two-minute drill situation. The receiver immediately headed for the sideline to stop the clock. He made it, but had to shake off a tackle or two and it took at least five seconds. All in all, a smart play, IMO.

But suppose the receiver caught the ball, looked upfield, saw three defenders barreling towards him, and then saw two DBs guarding the sideline. Could he take the ball and throw it out of bounds? If he throws it backwards, there’s no illegal forward pass penalty, and if he makes sure to really huck it so there’s no chance a defender will get it, his team will retain possession. Does the clock stop in such a situation?

What about in college football? Obviously, there’s less of a need, with the clock stopping for a first down, but I could imagine it being useful for a reception picking up 15 yards on a 2nd-and-forever.

I think the issue of whether it’s a smart play is a separate one – he might fumble the ball in his hurry to throw it, he might accidentally throw it forward, he might float a duck that gets picked off, etc. I just want to know if it’s legal.

Moved from GQ to The Game Room.

General Questions Moderator

As I understand it, your scenario is legal. In both the NFL and NCAA a ball can be fumbled out of bounds intentionally without penalty so long as the fumble is backwards. The ball is spotted where the ball goes out of bounds and the clock is stopped and restarted at the next snap.

This Ask the Referee column supports that rationale.

The caveat is that if the ball is thrown forward it becomes an illegal forward pass, and under NFL rules a offensive penalty in the final 2 minutes requires a 10 second run-off of the game clock.

Not that it would apply in this situation, since it sounds like there were no time outs left, but something I’ve always wanted to see…

2 Minute drill… in fact, less than 15 seconds left. The offense has timeouts left.

A long pass down the middle, and instead of going out of bounds to stop the clock, or fighting for a couple of more yards, take a knee.

(I don’t have my rulebook with me, otherwise I’d quote the rule)
If the offensive player who is in possesion of the ball (the QB is what you usually see), he can take a knee and say “Down” to indicate the end of the play, and at that time, call a time out.

It’s legal, and possible, I’ve just never seen it.

Thanks, Omniscient. I’d love to see a player do it in a game. The coach (I’m picturing John Gruden here) would initially flip, and then, when he saw that it saved a few seconds, he’d add it to the drills.

That’s only if it’s a dead-ball foul and the offending team doesn’t have any time-outs, right? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a holding penalty in the last two minutes get a run-off, but I have seen it for a false start. The rationale is that, in some situations, moving back five yards would be worth it for the time to get a decent play called in… but with the 10-second runoff, it’s no longer worth it. I imagine if my receiver did throw the ball forward out of bounds, the refs would throw a flag, stop the clock, march off the yardage, spot the ball, and then (after the ref hilariously sprints out of the way) start to wind the clock again.

I’ve never seen a receiver take a knee in this scenario, but I’ve seen them dive to the turf, spring back up, and immediately call a time-out.

Has nothing to do with “dead-ball” fouls. The difference is if the penalty stops a otherwise moving clock. Here’s the text of the NFL rule PDF! See Rule 4, Sec 3, Rule 10

Ironically, while looking that up, I found this note about backward passes in the same rulebook.

So, in short, I have no idea if it’s legal or not. There seems to be a contradiction. I’m not sure if a backwards pass in this case specifically refers to the QB in the pocket or if a ineligible passer throwing the ball backwards counts. It seems that the spirit of the rule forbids intentionally conserving time by throwing the ball out of bounds.

Presumably it’s legal to throw the ball out of bounds backwards so long as the ref doesn’t think you are doing it for the express purpose of conserving time.

Well, it does, according to your cite, which calls them “fouls by either team that prevent the snap (i.e., false start, encroachment, etc.)” (Although I suppose “dead ball foul” is a college term, but that’s what it’s referring to.) Presumably, the “etc” would also include stuff like either team kicking the set ball before it is snapped, going over to start a fight with the other team just to stop the clock, and so forth. 10 second runoff results.

But every penalty stops a clock, at least temporarily. So it has nothing to do with a penalty that stops the clock (such as holding or offensive pass interference), but rather with a penalty that is committed specifically to stop the clock.

I’d agree with that. Bummer. It’d be a heads-up play if it were legal.

I think you are misreading the location of the parentheses. It says:

“fouls by either team that prevent the snap (i.e., false start, encroachment, etc.), intentional grounding, an illegal forward pass thrown from beyond the line of scrimmage with the intent to conserve time, throwing a backward pass out of bounds with the intent to conserve time, and any other intentional foul that causes the clock to stop.”

“Dead ball” penalties are just one of a half dozen penalties that are suggested and they include the “any other” catch-all at the end. My point was that it’s not limited to dead balls in anyway which is what you implied.

I think we’re almost saying the same thing here. You said that it has “nothing to do with ‘dead ball’ fouls,” and I said that your cite says it does. You’re also saying that there are other penalties besides the DBFs that will incur a runoff, and you’re right. But you originally mentioned penalties that stop an otherwise moving clock, which is every penalty. I maintain that they’re not going to do a runoff for a holding call, and I don’t think you’d disagree with that.

Bottom line is my fiendish plan for a receiver to save a few extra seconds is kaput. I’m content.

You said:

When I responded:

I was contesting your limiting it to dead-balls. I probably could have parsed my words a little more carefully and said “Whether it’s a dead-ball is irrelevant.”

I would say that based on my reading of the rule, you could have a run-off called on a holding call so long as the Referee was of the opinion that the Offensive Player did so intentionally with the intent of stopping the clock. It’s be a pretty unlikely scenario, but I see nothing in the rules that prohibit it.

I’m an English fan, so excuse my lack of experience! :slight_smile:

Time running out.
Quarterback forced out of pocket towards sidelines.
Sees receiver open in middle of field and completes forward pass to him.
Defenders converge on receiver.
Receiver throws ball backwards close enough to quarterback to count as attempted backward pass and it goes out of play.

Is the Quarterback a legal receiver?

If so, is the above a way of stopping the clock, whilst making sure the ball is respotted where the receiver threw it?

If not, could another wide receiver take the Quarterback’s place?

All sorts of issues here. First, the idea of a legal receiver only relates to a forward pass, only one of which can occur on a given play. A ball can be passed backward (often called a lateral) to any player, so the idea of a legal receiver on a lateral does not make sense. (Nitpick, a pass that goes directly parallel to the line of scrimmage counts as a lateral or backwards pass.) Also, any lateral or backwards pass that goes out of bounds would be spotted at the place where it went out of bounds, not the place from where it was thrown. The placement of a ball from where it was thrown only applies to an incomplete forward pass. (A forward fumble in the last two minutes of a half or on fourth down also results in the ball being placed at the spot of the fumble, a rule arising from the infamous “Holy Roller” play by the Raiders many moons ago.)

The place where the ball was thrown from doesn’t matter in an incomplete forward pass, either. It’s placed at the original line of scrimmage.

In college football, this is a penalty:

The penalty is five yards from the spot of the foul and no right to repeat the down. The clock starts on the ready signal instead of the snap.

Of course, under desperate circumstances, even getting a clock-stop until the ready signal could be a life-saver. There is no ten-second runoff in college football. You’re correct, however, that the first-down clock stop minimizes the number of occasions on which this would be a profitable strategy. I’ve never seen it in a game.

That’s what I get for posting so early in the morning. Thanks

Can the team that’s in the lead commit one of these 10-second run off fouls?

Absolutely. I’ve never seen it done intentionally, although it might make some sense if the offense waited until there was, say a second left on the game clock, committed the penalty to get an additional ten seconds run off the clock (in addition to the 40 they’d just taken off).

Wouldn’t the defensive team just decline the penalty?

No, it’s really not. The clock isn’t always moving. Imagine first down is an incomplete pass. Now imagine any number of penalties occuring before the snap on second down. (False start, encroachment, unabated to the QB, delay of game, etc…) None of them stopped an otherwise moving clock because the clock wasn’t moving.