1. QB snaps the ball
  2. Refs call penalty - off-sides, false start, or other line-related penalty
  3. Before or as refs blow whistle, QB drops back 2-4 steps
  4. After penalty called, QB spikes ball into the ground

Why do quarterbacks do this? If they do this as a precaution in case there was no penalty, wouldn't they be flagged for intentional grounding?

Below is a link for intentional grounding as I understand it.

Intentional Grounding

  • Another possibility that QB's do this might be to not give away what the intended play call was. Even more likely may be that it's a way to "surrender" and avoid harm just in case some defensive player continues with the play. That's just a hunch though. Dec 28, 2015 at 5:30
  • I always assumed it was just frustration. Dec 28, 2015 at 23:29

3 Answers 3


In high school football my coach told me to do it as a safety measure. Players on defense are trained to go after the ball and to be careful about touching the QB when he isn't in possession of the ball. Spiking the ball reinforces the notion that the play is dead. As a player you're very tuned into the sound of the ref's whistle. Most players stop immediately when they hear it, so the spike is for those who "didn't get the memo." Even at the high school level I've never seen a quarterback spike the ball in error after thinking a penalty was called when it really wasn't.

  • 2
    I want to note that your answer is right but your coach is a dufus or lazy for teaching you to do this. If a QB thinks there is a whistle or a play may be called dead we instruct a 7 step bootleg to their strong side. No fear of getting hit (without a penalty) and the are set up to throw long if it is on the defense. Coaching/refereeing for the past 20+ years I have seen many blown free plays due to this and a few intentional grounding calls - remember sometimes cheer coaches use whistles too.
    – Coach-D
    Jan 8, 2016 at 16:23

The QB either hears the referee's whistle, sees a flag thrown by an umpire or line judge, or any official waving his hands which are all indications the play is dead. At this point the QB realizes there will be no play. Pass rushers trying to sack the QB may or may not have heard or seen the same indications from the officials that the play is dead and may continue to rush the QB. Pass rushers are not in position to see as many officials as the QB and can be unaware the play is dead. As a protective measure by the QB to avoid getting knocked silly or driven into the ground, the QB will spike the ball into the ground. This should stop all pass rushers from hitting the QB. If they hit the QB at this point it is a dead ball foul and will result in a penalty to be assessed against the defense regardless of the initial infraction that stopped the play.


False start can't be called once a play is under way. It's usually called before the ball is snapped, or as you mentioned, while the quarterback is taking his drop back into the pocket. In this case, the quarterback will spike the ball because he know's what the penalty is (he can see the offensive line better than anyone), or just wants to do so, just because he can.

The only penalty that will prevent the play from developing (or continuing to go on) is a false start. That has to be called immediately when it's seen. In the case of offsides, the officials will throw the flag, but won't kill the play. This is referred to in the NFL as a "free play" for the offense, because if they do something bad (e.g. throw an interception) it will be nullified by the offsides call. Aaron Rodgers of the Packers is a master of this.

They aren't flagged for intentional grounding because after a referee blows a whistle for false start, the play is dead - anything that happens after (like the quarterback throwing the ball into the ground) doesn't matter.

  • 1
    I understand you can't be penalized after a whistle is officially blown. Regarding the free play, what about neutral zone infraction or encroachment?
    – Trevor D
    Jan 8, 2016 at 0:10
  • Yea, offsides, neutral zone infraction, encroachment, whatever you want to call it, if the defense is caught offside and the play is allowed to develop (the offsides player doesn't touch an offensive player) then that's a free play. Jan 8, 2016 at 0:12
  • "the only penalty" - nope. In fact, Encroachment stops the play (that is offsides where a defender touches an offensive player); neutral zone infractions also involve the play being blown dead (this is where a defender either has an unimpeded line to the QB, or causes the offense to false start). There are a few other infrequently called penalties that can cause the play to be over, also.
    – Joe
    Jan 8, 2016 at 1:04

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