what is a fumble in football

What Is Fumble In Football?

You probably know what a fumble means. But do you know what it means in football? Mistakes in any sport can cost you. In football, a fumble can cost you a game. 

It can give the offense one last chance to make a winning run or help the defense seal a win with a stop in their end zone.

What is a fumble in football? In football, a fumble is when the ball carrier loses the ball before scoring, being tackled, or going out of bounds. It usually occurs to offensive players before they are considered down.

Either of the teams can regain the ball. However, there are rules when the ball goes out of bounds into the end zone.

Fumbles in football generate a lot of excitement. Join me as I discuss more about a fumble in football, NFL fumbles, what happens after a fumble, and much more.

What Is the NFL Fumble Rules

According to the NFL rules, a fumble is a type of action in the game leading to loss of possession apart from a kick or a pass. However, there is an exception.

If a player fumbles a ball forward knowingly, then it’s not a fumble. Instead, it’s considered a forward pass.

Additionally, the NFL rules state what should not be a fumble, as recovery and advance, legal recovery and out of bounds.

The rules state that any player from either team can recover a fumble. But it has to happen after the ball hits the ground or just before it hits the ground and advances.

However, if the ball goes  through the goalline or to the end zone or out of bounds, the rules are slightly different. I’ve covered this part in the sections below.

We have 3 scenarios when the NFL rules apply. The first rule is when fumbles occur in the end zone. The second is when the fumble occurs on fourth down. Lastly, we have fumbles that occur in both halves, towards the last 2 minutes.

NFL rules state that fumbles in the field that go towards an opponent’s end zone and to the sideline lead to a touchback for the defensive team.

For fumbles that happen in a team’s own end zone and out of bounds, safety is awarded as long as the team gave the cause leading to the ball going to the end zone. But if the opponents provide the impetus, then a touchback is given.

Examples of How Fumble Is Used

Fumbles are used in football to force turnovers. A good example is a running back with the ball. The defense will hit the running back, forcing a fumble and take possession of the ball. They will then run five yards before they are tackled.

player loosing grip on the football after being tackled

The Green Bay Packers are known for a high turnover margin, although they have not translated most of it into wins. In 2014, they had the highest +14 turnover margin coming within the play of the SuperBowl.

They would force turnovers by running behind running backs and forcing fumbles. However, most opponents will not give you opportunities to force fumbles and cause a turnover.

How Frequent Can a Fumble Happen

Well, fumbles don’t happen as often as you might imagine. They appear easy but rarely occur. To illustrate how uncommon fumbles are, let’s look at the NFL season in 2020.

The entire league of 32 teams sees approximates 1.16 fumbles every weekend. In simple terms, a fumble happens on average once in a game in the NFL.

Overall, a fumble is not something you’ll experience every day. If it happens in a game, it will occur once or twice at most. Most professional players are careful and rarely fumble. Even when they do, it is because they are forced by defensive players looking for a turnover.

How To Recover a Fumble

No team wants to lose possession in any sport. It means giving your opponent a chance to score. The same applies to football. When you fumble, you need to recover.

There are two ways you can recover after a fumble. The first way is to scoop the ball off the ground and try to advance. But, it’s not the best way to recover. The unique oblong shape of the ball makes it difficult to scoop.

What’s the alternative? Simply fall on the ball and try to cover it. Use your entire body to cover the ball as much as possible.

What Happens When You Fumble At The End Zone?

If the offensive team fumbles in the opponent’s end zone, they can still recover the ball and score. However, the defense will get a touchback if the ball goes out of bounds.

When a player fumbles in the end zone, they can still recover and try to advance. However, if the ball goes out of bounds in the end zone, the other team will get safety. According to the NFL rulebook, the following can happen:

american football in the air while the players are on the ground
  • The ball is placed at the inbound spot by the last team to have possession if it goes backward.
  • If the ball goes forward and out of bounds, it is placed at the spot of the fumble by the last team in possession
  • If a team fumbles in their end zone and the ball goes forward into the field of play, the result is safety. That is, if the team led to the impetus putting the ball into the end zone. However, play results in a touchback if an opponent provides the impetus.
  • The ball can also be declared dead and awarded to team B. This happens when possession has not changed on a down, and the ball is not beyond or at the line to gain. That is after a 4th down.

However, there are instances when the ball fumbles in the endzone from the field of play. When such happens, a touchback is given to the defensive team.

When it fumbles in a field of play and goes out of bounds or to the end zone, then safety is given if the team gives impetus to send the ball out of bounds.

What Happens if a Ball Fumbled Out of Bounds?

First, the ball can go out of bounds through the goalline and out of bounds in the end zone.

NFL Players With the Most Fumbles

The player with the most fumbles in NFL history is quarterback Brett Favre. He is among few quarterbacks in the HOF. Brett has had 166 fumbles throughout his playing career for Green Bay. These fumbles range through the 19 years he has played for the team.

Second on the list is Warren Moon, with 161 fumbles. Dave Krieg comes third with 153 fumbles.

However, we have more recent NFL players with a pretty good number of fumbles. In the year 2019, Daniel Jones played as a quarterback for the New York Giants and led with 19 fumbles.

Other recent quarterbacks on the list include Eli Manning and Brady in the top ten. We also have Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers, and Drew Brees with a high number of fumbles.

What Is the Difference Between an Incomplete Pass and a Fumble?

In football fumbles and incomplete passes are totally different things, although they might look similar. A fumble means the player has lost possession before a down. This can happen with any player carrying the ball, from the quarterback to a wide receiver.

two american football players on a white background

Remember, a down is called when a knee touches the ground. Incomplete passes, on the other hand see a drop of the football from a wide receiver. The two look similar, but there is a key difference.

When incomplete passes occur, the wide receiver without having the ball first loses it. Incomplete passes are when wide receivers try to catch a football, then drop it.

Can You Kick a Fumbled Football?

Players are not allowed to kick a fumbled football. Any attempt to kick a fumbled football will lead to a 10-yard penalty. This is considered illegal kicking of the ball.

However, if a player kicks the ball incidentally, a referee might let it slide.

What Happens When You Recover a Fumble in Football?

When you fumble in football, either team can recover the ball. The defensive player can recover the football and advance, scoring a touchdown in the opponent’s end zone.

Either player on the offense or defense can also dive and cover the ball, making it dead. The rules on what happens to vary when the ball fumbles and goes out of bounds in the end zone.


That’s from me! Now you know what a fumble in football means. A fumble in football is when a player loses possession before they score a touchdown or the play is dead. It’s never a good thing to fumble in football as the opponents can take possession and turn the game.

When a player fumbles, you need to recover right away by scooping the ball and advancing or covering it with your body. The aim is to prevent the opposing players from picking the ball and taking possession. 

However, in professional leagues like the NFL, fumbles are quite rare, with an average of one per game.

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