NFL Video Rulebook

The NFL Video Rulebook explains NFL rules with video examples.

Forward Pass

Rule Summary View Official Rule

SECTION 1 - FORWARD PASS

ARTICLE 1. DEFINITION

It is a forward pass if:

  1. the ball initially moves forward (to a point nearer the opponent’s goal line) after leaving the passer’s hand(s)
  2. the ball first strikes the ground, a player, an official, or anything else at a point that is nearer the opponent’s goal line than the point at which the ball leaves the passer’s hand(s).

Note: A ball that is intentionally fumbled and goes forward is a forward pass. A ball that is intentionally muffed, and goes forward or backward, is a batted ball (12-5-1-Note).

Item 1. Forward Movement of Hand

When a player is in control of the ball and is attempting to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his hand starts a forward pass.

  1. If, after intentional forward movement of his hand, contact by an opponent materially affects the passer, causing the ball to go backward, it is a forward pass, regardless of where the ball strikes the ground, a player, an official, or anything else.
  2. If, after an intentional forward movement of his hand, the passer loses possession of the ball during an attempt to bring it back toward his body, it is a fumble.
  3. If the passer loses possession of the ball while attempting to re-cock his arm, it is a fumble.

ARTICLE 2. LEGAL FORWARD PASS

The offensive team may make one forward pass from behind the line during each down. If the ball, whether in player possession or loose, crosses the line of scrimmage, a forward pass is not permissible, regardless of whether the ball returns behind the line of scrimmage before the pass is thrown.

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