A fumble in football is when a player has possession of the ball and loses that control before they get tackled to the ground, get out of bounds, or score. If they lose the ball within the field of play, the ball is open to recovery by either side; this can also be considered a loose ball. The only exception is if a player fumbles forward, which is a forward pass. A fumble recovery during a game can be a giant momentum swing for the defense.
So, what happens when a player fumbles the football? What is the primary difference between a fumble and an incomplete pass? What is fumble recovery in football, and how many points is a fumble recovery worth?
Below we will discuss the fumble in American football in greater detail.
What Happens When the Football is Fumbled?
Several different scenarios can happen when a fumble occurs in football. The first is a defensive player recovers the ball and either returns it for a defensive touchdown or hands possession of the ball to the offensive unit, where their line of scrimmage is where the defensive player got tackled.
The other option is the offensive team that fumbled the ball could recover the ball. When this happens, the team will lose a down and continue playing wherever the player who recovered the ball is marked downed unless it occurred on a fourth down, in which case the offensive team turns the ball over to the other team.
What Happens if the Offensive Team Recovers the Fumble?
When a fumble occurs and an offensive team recovers the ball, they can advance it. For example, if a running back fumbles the ball on the run, but the team’s wide receiver recovers it, that wide receiver has the chance to move the football forward and either get a first down or score a touchdown if no one can stop them. The only exception occurs with two minutes in half or fourth down. In these situations, only the player who fumbled the ball has the option of advancing it if they were able to recover it.
What Happens if a Fumble Occurs on a Punt or Kickoff?
A fumble can occur on either a kickoff or a punt, but per football rules, if the ball is fumbled on a muffed punt, the punting team can recover the ball, but they can not advance it. With a kickoff, a fumble occurs; only the receiving team can advance the ball.
What is the Difference Between a Fumble and an Incomplete Pass?
A fumble or incomplete pass is fundamentally different in the game of football. One of the main differences between a fumble and an incomplete pass is that a fumble if recovered by the defensive team, could result in the team losing possession of the ball. A team could lose control of the ball on an incomplete pass if it occurred on a fourth down; otherwise, an incomplete pass will result in a team moving on to the next down.
The other difference is if a defensive player recovers the fumbles, they can return the ball for a touchdown, but no such thing can occur with an incomplete pass.
What is a Fumble Recovery in Football?
A fumble recovery in a football game is when either the offensive team or the defensive team recovers a fumble once it occurs. But as we discussed earlier, which team recovers the ball determines the next course of action for the game.
How Many Points is a Fumble Recovery Worth?
A fumble recovery in itself is not worth any points. The points come in if the defensive team or an offensive player can gain possession of the football and return the ball either to the endzone or to a position where they can kick a field goal.
Why Do Certain Fumbles Receive a Challenge?
A fumble can be a gigantic momentum shift for the defense if they can recover it, especially if they run it back for a touchdown. If the coach believes their offensive player was down by contact before the fumble, they can challenge the call on the field. The challenge on the field is for the refs to review the video replay to see if the legs of the player with the football hit the ground first before the ball got loose.
However, football coaches only have two challenges during a game, so if the call does not change, they lose one of their challenges. Teams and coaches must make a quick decision if they want to challenge a fumble during a game. Sometimes the video replay is insufficient to overturn a call, which means the fumble will stand.
Does the Weather Impact Fumbles?
Offensive football players train to hold onto the football, while defensive players train to knock the football loose on plays. However, wet weather makes it more difficult to maintain the ball. When a football game is in the rain or snow, holding onto the football becomes more difficult, which is when you might start seeing more fumbles during a match.
Famous Fumbles in Super Bowl History
Super bowl games have had fumbles be the deciding factor in the game. For example, many believed the Patriots’ Donte Hightower fumble on the Falcon’s Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI was the catalyst to help the Patriots come back from a 28-12 deficit. The fumble is a critical moment in NFL football; it’s the one play that leaves the fans on their toes guessing who got possession and what it means for the overall game.
Conclusion: What is a Fumble in Football?
Fumbles can swing the momentum quickly when they occur in a game. Defensive players will often practice football moves that can force the ball out of the ball carrier’s hands. It’s not rare to see a defensive player swat at a ball from beneath or above to force it loose or even tackle a player at a certain angle. Nothing in a rulebook says a player can not cause another player to fumble by hitting them in a certain way.
The next course of action for the game is entirely dependent upon who gain possession of the fumble. If the offensive team recovers the fumble, they move on to the next down, and if the defending team gets the ball, they start at the spot of the ball recovery. Players for each team have the option of advancing the ball when they recover the ball; that is why you will see players scramble to block whichever player is around when they see their teammate has retrieved the ball.
Finally, coaches can challenge a fumble call on the field. They can challenge it if they believe their player was down by contact before the ball got loose. If a coach can challenge a play that goes in their favor, the fumble turns into a down for the offensive team. If the coach gets the challenge wrong, they lose a challenge play, and the defense keeps the ball.