When Does the Clock Stop in Football?

When Does the Clock Stop in Football

Like many other sports, the game clock in football starts and stops at certain points in the game. Understanding when the clock stops in football is essential to understanding how the game is played. Read on to learn more about when and for how long the clock stops in football.

When Does the Clock Stop in Football?

The game clock stops in football:

After Kicking Plays

In an NFL game, the game clock will stop at the end of any kicking play. At the beginning of the game, when the opening kickoff occurs, the game clock will not start until the ball is legally touched, usually by the receiving player on the return team. Once the play is over, the clock stops for teams to switch from their special teams personnel. If the kick goes out of bounds, the receiving team kneels the ball dead in the end zone or makes a fair catch, or the kicking team touches the ball first, the game clock will not start.

Out of Bounds

The game clock will stop during play of the game at any point in which the ball goes out of bounds after a play begins. This can occur in a variety of ways, such as a runner being forced out of bounds by a defender, a runner deliberately going out of bounds with the ball, a quarterback throwing the ball out of bounds, or a kick going out of bounds.

However, if a ball-carrier goes out of bounds, the game clock will only stop if the player was making forward progress when they went out of bounds. If a player is moving backwards when they go out of bounds, the game clock will not stop.

Dead Ball

The clock will stop at some points in which the referee whistles the ball dead. The clock does not always stop when the ball is dead: for example, since the ball is dead between plays, the clock may continue to run if a play ends without the ball going out of bounds, such as a tackle. If the ball is declared dead on or behind the goal line, the clock will stop.


Whenever a penalty occurs during a play, the clock will stop in order for the penalty to be announced and enforced. The game clock can restart when the referee places the ball after the foul, or at the next snap.

Incomplete Pass

An incomplete forward pass will result in a game clock stoppage in football. However, an incomplete lateral or backward pass will not result in a game clock stoppage, and is still a live ball until downed.

Two-Minute Warning

The two-minute warning is a clock stoppage that happens after the two-minute mark at the end of the second and fourth quarters. The two-minute warning is typically viewed as an extra timeout at the end of each half.

Change of Possession

Every time there is a change of possession in football, the game clock will stop. Changes of possession include interceptions, fumbles, and punts. The game clock will stop after the ball is declared dead on the play where the change of possession occurred.


The game clock will stop if a player, coach, or official calls for a timeout. The play clock will resume after the timeout has concluded, but the game clock will not start until the ball is snapped.

Stopping the NFL Game Clock Summary

The game clock stops in certain situations throughout a football game. These are the instances where the clock stops in an NFL game, as outlined by the NFL Rulebook:

  • at the end of a down in which there is a free kick or fair-catch kick
  • when the kicking team recovers a scrimmage kick beyond the line of scrimmage
  • when the ball is out of bounds
  • when the ball is dead on or behind a goal line
  • at the end of a down during which a foul occurs
  • when a forward pass is incomplete
  • at the time of a foul for which the ball remains dead or is dead immediately
  • when the referee signals the two-minute warning for a half
  • when a down is completed during which or after there is a change of possession
  • when any official signals a timeout for any other reason


How often does the clock stop in football?

Football is a sport where the clock stops and starts quite often, like basketball. Since there are many instances in which play must briefly pause due to things like injuries, penalties, the ball going out of bounds, or timeouts, the clock stops frequently in order to ensure that exactly 60 minutes of actual gameplay occurs, rather than game time being wasted while there is no actual play occurring. Unlike soccer, which has a continuously-running clock and stoppage time at the end of each half, football game clocks stop and start as the game does.

Who controls the game clock in football?

The game clock in the NFL is controlled by an official timekeeper. The timekeeper is not one of the on-field officials, and is usually situated in a booth somewhere in the stadium. The timekeeper and other officials also keep track of the play clock.

Does the clock stop in a football game during commercial breaks?

The game clock is stopped every time there is a commercial break during a football game. The NFL and its TV partners only run commercials during certain game clock stoppages, including after changes of possession, during timeouts, and in-between all four quarters. These breaks are often referred to as “Television Timeouts.”