I've been reading into the fumbling rules and saw this on Wikipedia. "In American football the offense cannot advance the ball if it recovers its own fumble on fourth down, or in the last two minutes of a half, unless the ball is recovered by the fumbler."

So here's my question to all the rule book veterans, if in the situation described above (4th down attempt or last 2 mins of each half), the center snaps to the QB in a shotgun formation, and if the snap goes awfully wrong, who is the fumbler in the following situation:

a) if the ball never touches the QB and bounces onto the field, is the Center the fumbler here so the QB can advance the ball if he recovers?

b) if the ball touches the QB but he can't control/handle it, is that considered a fumble by the QB as he is the last one to touch so if he recovers he can advance or it isn't a fumble by him as he never has legal possession?

Additional question, if the Center hands off the snap in an I formation, and the ball fumbles, who is the fumbler here? What if the QB hands off or lateral passes to a RB/WR/TE and the ball isn't caught properly, I assume fumble will be counted against the QB and the intended recipient can still recover and advance ?

  • In general, we try to have only one question per question. Other than your last one, these are all sort of more or less one question - variations of "what happens on an aborted play" - so I'll not remove them. The one about what happens when your recover a fumble can be its own, but I think you'll find it answered already, we've had a few questions on this site of this nature.
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 20:41
  • Somewhat of a related question sports.stackexchange.com/q/25498/3671
    – alamoot
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 4:06

1 Answer 1


Relevant bits from the rulebook:

7.6.4 Legal Snap

A snap is a backward pass. The snap must be received by a player who is not on the line at the snap, unless the ball first strikes the ground. If the ball first strikes the ground, or is muffed by an eligible backfield receiver, or quarterback under center, it can be recovered and advanced by any player.

So - if the snap goes over the QB's head or hits the ground running, the snap was aborted, and anyone can recover it. That includes the QB muffing the snap.

More details from the NFL Guide for Statisticians:


Aborted Plays

A. the ball is clearly centered improperly, meaning that the ball does not reach the intended receiver of the snap within the frame of his body or arm -span;

B. the intended ball-handler fumbles the snap from center;

C. a backward pass (hand-off, lateral, reverse, etc.) behind the line of scrimmage is mishandled, or not handled, resulting in a fumble (the ball touches the ground or is caught in flight by another player.)

D. a punter who has received the snap from the center correctly, but in the process to punt the ball, the ball is dropped (unforced fumble).

In each of these cases, charge a rush for 0 yards. In A, B, and D, the rush is charged to the player who receives, or intended to receive the snap from center. In C, the rush is charged to the player who attempts the backward pass.

When the ball is clearly centered improperly, charge the center with a fumble and any yards lost as fumble yardage. On any other aborted play, the player charged with the rush is also charged with a fumble and any yards lost as fumble yardage. (Note: positive fumble yardage cannot be credited.)

You'd charge the fumble to the quarterback if the ball could reasonably have been caught, or to the center if it was clearly his fault.

And a QB lateral or handoff is treated more or less the same as a bad snap - it's still an aborted play. The QB gets the "fumble", though, instead of the recipient. Not sure why they change that, but they do... of course, if they get possession and then fumble, that's not an aborted play and they are credited with the fumble.

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