Why is a not caught Backward pass a fumble and not a incomplete pass? I know all the new rules about a complete pass and why a uncaught pass is incomplete and not a fumble. But I saw a droped backward pass ruled a fumble and not incomplete!

  • 2
    Are you looking for a quote from the rulebook here, or a historical perspective on the evolution of passing in American football?
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 19:43

1 Answer 1


The simplest answer is because a backwards (or lateral) pass isn't considered a forward pass and therefore can't be ruled incomplete. It's often called a "lateral" or "pitch", and it's a way of transferring the ball from one player to another, not a way of progressing up the field.

They also differ from forward passes in a few others ways:

  • They can be legally attempted from anywhere on the field.
  • At any time.
  • By any player.
  • Any number of times.

This leads to them causing some crazy plays as teams hope to extend plays and score at the end of the game when the clock is up.

Interestingly, shotgun snaps are also considered a backwards pass.


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