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Football Illegal Forward Pass Penalty

Football Illegal Forward Pass Penalty

The forward pass is one of the most common plays in football. On average, about half of all plays in a football game involve a forward pass. Most of these passes are completed by the quarterback, though occasionally another position player will throw the ball. However, there are rules about a forward pass. An illegal forward pass is one that is made either in front of the line of scrimmage or after another forward pass has already been completed. This penalty, on the offense, will negate any play that occurs after the pass, if the penalty is accepted.


A forward pass is any ball that moves forward in the air after leaving the passer's hand, or any ball that hits another player closer to the opposing goal line than from where it left the passer's hand. There is a fine line between a forward pass and a backward pass, known as a lateral, but they are completely different things. An illegal forward pass is one of four things:

  1. A forward pass released after the passer has crossed the line of scrimmage.
  2. A forward pass thrown after another forward pass has already been thrown.
  3. A forward pass thrown after the passer has crossed the line of scrimmage and returned behind it.
  4. A forward pass after the ball has changed possession.

Any of these types of forward passes are illegal and will be called back.


Illegal Forward Pass5 Yards, Loss of Down5 Yards5 Yards5 Yards5 Yards

If a forward pass is made beyond the line of scrimmage, the result of the play is a loss of down and a five yard penalty from the line of scrimmage. If a second forward pass is made, a loss of down is enacted and a five yard penalty occurs from the spot of the foul. The same goes for a forward pass on a turnover. There is no loss of down, seeing as the ball changed hands, but a five yard penalty is enacted from the location of the passer. These rules apply for all football leagues. If an interception occurs on an illegal forward pass, the defensive team may choose to decline the penalty, in which case the interception will stand. Otherwise, the previous play does not count.

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal illegal forward pass

The signal for an illegal forward pass is one hand behind the back while signaling towards the offending team. Almost always that is the offense that the official will be pointing to, except on the occasions where a change of possession occurs. Though all that is required is to hold the hand behind the back, usually the official will put their elbow out at a 45 degree angle, or wave their arm behind their back, to ensure that both teams and the crowd see the penalty signal.


  • The quarterback scrambles out of the pocket and runs to their right where they throw the ball right after having crossed the line of scrimmage.
  • The quarterback throws a screen pass to the wide receiver who then throws the ball deep to another wide receiver.
  • During a kickoff, a team needs to score. They try to lateral as much as possible but they end up throwing the ball forward instead of backward.

Similar Penalties To Illegal Forward Pass