NFL Play Clock: When Does the Clock Stop in the NFL?

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns

The National Football League’s rules are similar to the rules at all levels of American football when it comes to stopping the clock during the game; however, there are some exceptions. Like with many other aspects of the game, the NFL tends to treat clock stoppage slightly differently than high school or NCAA college football. Knowing these rules will help prevent confusion the next time you watch an NFL game.

NFL Play Clock

Before talking about when the game clock stops, it is important to know some basics about play clock management in the NFL.

  • The NFL uses a 40-second play clock in between plays from the line of scrimmage, and the offense is given a delay of game penalty if they do not snap it before the clock expires
  • On some occasions, a 25-second play clock will be used. These occasions are:
    • Change of possession
    • Charged timeout
    • Two-minute warning
    • End of quarter
    • Penalty enforcement
    • Extra-point or two-point attempt
    • Punt

In an NFL football game, the game clock is stops for the following reasons:

  • First downs
  • Incomplete passes
  • Out of bounds
  • Change of possession
  • Penalties
  • Scoring
  • Time outs
  • Injuries
  • Play clock reset
  • Two-minute warning
Philadelphia Eagles v Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Game Clock Stoppages

Incomplete Passes

When the offense runs a pass play from scrimmage and the pass falls incomplete, the game clock stops immediately. This incomplete pass can be a bad pass, blown route, batted away ball or a ball thrown out of bounds for lack of options.

When the offensive team wishes to stop the clock intentionally, the same rule applies to a spiked ball immediately following the snap. The quarterback receives the snap and immediately throws the ball into the ground in front of him. This spike is considered an incomplete pass according to the game clock rules.

Out Of Bounds

Anytime a ball carrier makes contact with the sideline or an area outside of the field of play, the play clock stops. According to the NFL Rule Book, the clock is re-started once the officials spot the ball at the appropriate yard line on the field, except during the last two minutes before halftime or the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. During these times, the clock doesn’t start again until the next snap. The offense must run the next play before the play clock runs to zero, however.

If a player in possession of the ball has his forward progress stopped in bounds and is then pushed out of bounds, the officials may mark the player down in bounds at the point of forward progress and signal for the clock to continue running.

Change Of Possession

When a change of possession occurs during an NFL game, there is a stoppage in play to bring the proper offensive and defensive units onto the field. This change of possession is typically following a fumble recovery, interception, kickoff or punt.


When the game officials call a penalty on either team, the clock stops until the penalty yardage is sorted out and the ball is spotted at the appropriate yard line. In some instances, the clock will remain stopped after penalties until the referee’s signal to start it.


When a team finds the end zone for a touchdown or kicks a field goal, the clock stops immediately until the extra point or ensuing kickoff takes place.

Time Outs

The purpose of a time out is for a team to organize its game plan while the game is not in progress. As the name “time out” indicates, the clock stops when a team calls for one.


The game officials can elect to stop the clock at any time to allow medical personnel to tend to player injuries. This stoppage is usually reserved for times when a player cannot get off the field on his own in a quick manner.

Play Clock Reset

Since 2005 the NFL requires the play clock to be reset to 10 seconds if the game is stopped with less than 10 seconds remaining. Before this rule change, the play clock was reset to 25 seconds. This rule is meant to keep teams from facing a severe disadvantage when clock stoppage happens that is no fault of their own.

Two-Minute Warning

When the NFL play clock shows two minutes of the first half and two minutes of the second half remaining, the clock is stopped no matter what happened on the previous play.