Can You Fumble Forward For a Touchdown?

You cannot fumble forward for a touchdown intentionally. But the player who lost the ball can advance it if the team is in fourth down.

Initially, the ruling in such situations was done depending on whether the advancement was intentional or not. The rule said forwarding the lost ball could not be done on purpose.

The one famous play that encouraged the league to rethink its regulations was the Holy Roller play that occurred in 1978 in San Diego. It was the time when the Raiders were hustling against the Chargers.

The Raiders desperately needed a touchdown in the final ten seconds left in the game. When the play started from the fourteen-yard line, their top quarterback managed to take a sack but was hit. He still somehow led the ball forward.

Again, their running back hit it seven yards closer to the opponent’s end zone in an attempt to pick up the ball. The team’s tight end then bumped the ball further into the opponent’s end zone in an attempt to possess it and jumped on it for a touchdown.

The team was given a winning score by the officials as they were unable to determine whether the forward was intended or not. Criticism of the decision from several fans gave rise to the addition of new rules in the NFL after that.

NFL Rule Fumble Forward Into Endzone

Fumbling forward into the endzone awards a touchback to the defensive team. There have been two fumbles into the endzone in the 2023 season.

As per Section 7 Article 3 Item 4 of the NFL rulebook, whenever a stumbled ball in the field of play continues forward into the opponent’s endzone and over the end line or sideline, the defensive team will receive a touchback. 

But if the ball has stumbled in the team’s own end zone and goes out of bounds, it is ruled as safety if the offensive team uses force to send the ball to the endzone. If the impetus is provided by the opponent it results in a touchback.

Regarding recovery and advancing the ball, the rulebook states, “Any player of either team may recover or catch a stumbled and advance, either before or after the ball strikes the ground.”

But if the lost ball forward is intentional it will be ruled as a forward pass. 

Recent Fumble Forward Into Endzone in NFL

Last NFL season did not see such moments after which a touchback was awarded while one similar instance occurred in the 2021 season. 

In 2023, there have already been two such examples to look upon. The first one occurred in September when the Minnesota Vikings were playing against the Philadelphia Eagles. 

WR Justin Jefferson nearly scored a receiving touchdown during the second quarter but after it was reviewed by the officials it was ruled that he stumbled the ball over the pylon. 

As a result and as per the rule, the Eagles were awarded the touchback as the force for the lost ball was due to Terell Edmunds, the Eagles’ safety. 

Similarly, the Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts was ruled in an exact way while they were playing against the New York Jets in October. This was determined after the officials went on to replay the happenings. 

Many fans across the country consider the touchback rule as the dumbest and most unusual rule in the NFL. The reason for such thinking is considered fair by many as the team loses possession despite no recovery by the defense and still they get the ball.

Besides, the defense also gets 20% of the field marked off which is regarded as an insane and senseless ruling by many football lovers. 

Few also stand in support of the regulation and believe that it is the only way to tell the offensive players that they shouldn’t try hard to score a touchdown.

A large number of crowd find the rule too punitive for the offense. Their argument is the defense shouldn’t get the benefit of the possession as they never recovered the ball to possess it. 

NFL Fumble Rule Inside 2 Minutes

Inside 2 minutes NFL fumble rule states that only the fumbler is allowed to advance the ball forward in the final two minutes of each half.

This came with the regulation that says when the team is facing the fourth down only the player who stumbled the ball will be capable of advancing the ball further. 

After the San Diego incident in 1978, the League officials came in to make some additions and changes to the endzone rules to prevent any intentional lose of the ball in the near future. 

There are several recovery and advancing rules added in the NFL rulebook after the fans saw the famous Holy Roller play in September of 1978.

NFL Advancing A Fumble Rule

Following are some recovering and advancing lost ball rules that are in practice in the National Football League:

  • In general, Any player of either team may recover or catch a stumble and advance, either before or after the ball strikes the ground.
  • Players on offense can also recover the ball but the location where the ball was lost will be considered the starting point of the line of scrimmage. 
  • In the case of the final two minutes, any player on the fumbler’s team can recover the ball but only the fumbler is allowed to advance the ball beyond the spot.
  • If other players of the same team in the downfield recover the ball, the ball will be spotted back at its initial position of the stumble. 

When A Defensive Player Recovers The Ball

  • The player can return the ball toward the opponent’s endzone or advance it for a touchdown.
  • The player recovering the ball can dive on it and cause a down by contact. 
  • Besides, the recovering player can also cause a touchback when downed in their own endzone.

When The Ball Goes Out Of Bound

  • A touchback will be ruled if the ball goes out of bounds in the defending team’s endzone.
  • A safety will be ruled if the ball goes out of bounds in the fumbling team’s endzone.
  • If it is at the sideline, the offense continues its drive at the exact location from which the ball went out. 

New rules in the NFL emphasize automatic review of the stumbles by the game officials and is considered a mandatory official review which either results in the confirmation of it or declares it invalid. 

Can The Ground Cause A Fumble In NFL?

The Ground can cause a fumble in the NFL if the player carrying the ball falls without the opponent’s contact. It is the same in the CFL.

The rule exists in the NFL because in the League the ball carrier is not considered “down” unless a player from the opponent’s team makes a contact or the runner goes out of bounds.

It is said to be caused by the ground when a ball carrier is running with the ball and hits the ground without making any physical contact with the opponent team’s players and fumbles the ball in progress. 

In many other leagues, the player in possession of the ball is regarded as “down” as soon as the player’s elbow or knees touch the ground. 

As per Rule 7 Section 2 (a) in the NFL rule book, the ball is considered dead whenever the player is in possession of the ball comes in contact with the opponent and touches the ground with any part of his body other than his hand and feet.

Whenever a stumble is resulted after physical contact with the opponent, during the time it can be said that the ground does not cause a fumble. 

We hear most of the time that the ground cannot cause it which is generally not true and is often considered as one of the controversial maxims in the National Football League. 

Can You Fumble The Ball Forward In College Football?

Advancing a fumble in college football is allowed for a player only in first, second, and third down. It cannot be an illegal forward pass.

If in case it is done during the fourth down and when not recovered by the defense, the ball will be returned to its original location. Only the initial ball carrier is allowed to recover the ball when fumbled in the fourth down. 

College football rules are similar to those of the NFL and exist to control the intentional fumbling of the ball forward by the players. 

College football doesn’t allow its players to forward the stumble on a two-point conversion. However, in other instances such as if a runner loses a ball and it rolls forward, both the teams are allowed to recover the ball and advance it.

If the ball is to be recovered by the offense, it would be placed at the point where the recovering player has been ruled down. The same rule applies when the defense is to recover it. 

How Does It Work In College Football?

  • Whenever a stumble occurs in college football the ball becomes live and can be recovered and advanced by either of the team.
  • If the ball is not recovered by any players of either of the teams, then the possession will be awarded to the team with the last possession of the ball. 
  • If the defensive team recovers the ball then they can advance it to the opponent’s endzone for a score or gain a better field position for their offense.
  • A player cannot advance the ball in PATs, two-point conversions, and fourth downs.