What Is An Incomplete Pass In Football

An incomplete pass in football is any forward pass that makes contact with the ground or goes out of bounds without being caught first by an offensive player. Incomplete passes are always thrown forwards and once they occur the play is blown dead.

What you need to know

Now that we know what an incomplete pass is it’s time to breakdown what outcome arises from this play.

First off you need to know that an incomplete pass has no effect on your position in the field. When an incomplete pass occurs you will simply start the next play from the same location as the last.

It does not matter the spot in which the quarterback threw the ball from. It only matters where the play started.

An incomplete pass is also going to stop the clock. This ends up being a critical aspect of this play as it makes passing plays much more effective in late-game situations. Running plays can only stop the clock if the player runs out of bounds while carrying the ball.

While a passing play can stop the clock via throwing an incomplete pass or by running out of bounds with the ball.

Does An Interception Count As A Completed Pass?

An interception in football does not count as a completed pass. Despite an opposing team’s player catching the ball before it hits the ground an interception is considered an incomplete pass.

The reasoning for this is likely because counting these passes as completions would increase a quarterbacks completion percentage. Finding your completion percentage increasing via interceptions does not make much sense as this is not what you are trying to accomplish.

Does A Spike Count As An Incomplete Pass?

Yes a spike does count as an incomplete pass. This is because the quarterback is using the clock stoppage that is awarded with an incomplete pass.

In other words, if this weren’t considered an incompletion spiking the ball would not stop clock. Stopping the clock is the purpose of spiking the ball so the NFL was essentially forced to consider this an incomplete pass if they wanted to keep spiking in the game.

This will slightly affect quarterback completion percentages. But due to how rare spiking is in football these incomplete passes from spiking are going to be negligible.

What Is Not An Incomplete Pass

Now that we know what an incomplete pass let’s go over some common plays that are mistaken as incompletions passes.


A lateral is a backwards pass of the ball in football. When a lateral is thrown it is not considered a pass. This means catching it or dropping it does not count as a completion or a incompletion. When one of these passes hit the ground it is still live.

This means anyone can attempt to grab the ball and the play is not over. This is because the ball was thrown backwards instead of forward.

Fumbled Snap

When the center snaps the ball back to the quarterback and he drops it this is also not an incompletion. This is again because the ball is travelling backwards and a snap is not considered a throw.

Handing The Ball Off

When the quarterback hands the ball to the running back this is considered a handoff and not a pass. So if the running back fails to grab the ball out of your hands and it falls to the ground it is a fumble. This means it is not an incompletion and the ball is live.

This is similar to a player dropping the ball after running with it for a while. Since there was no forward pass in the play this can not be considered an incompletion.

1 thought on “What Is An Incomplete Pass In Football”

  1. Saints vs Falcons, 7 Nov 2021. Saints quarterback hit after his arm, hand and ball started forward motion. Instant replay clearly showed this without question. It was ruled a fumble. Why? This is clearly defined as an incomplete pass in the NFL rulebook.


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