What Is the Rule on a Quarterback Re-entering a Game?

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Throughout the history of the National Football League, there have been many changes to the rules of the game in an attempt to make the game increasingly fair for players, more strategic for coaches and more interesting for fans to watch. One rule that has changed and adapted over time is the rule about the quarterback re-entering the game.

Before 1995

Before 1995, when the rule for quarterbacks entering the game changed, the third-string quarterback was only allowed to enter the game if the first and second quarterbacks could no longer fulfill the position. This was because the third-string quarterback was considered an extra player beyond the normal 45 active players. This allowed teams to carry the extra quarterback for emergency situations. For example, if the starting quarterback became injured and then the second-string quarterback become injured, only then could the third-string quarterback enter the game. If something happened to the third-string quarterback, the first and second quarterbacks were not allowed to re-enter the game under any exception.

After 1995

In 1995, the NFL decided to change the rule about quarterbacks re-entering the game. The first- and second-string quarterbacks were allowed to re-enter the game even after the third-string quarterback entered the game. However, the first or second quarterback could only re-enter the game during the fourth quarter after being taken out of the game. This allowed for the quarterbacks to come back into the game for any reason after they had been taken out as long as it was late enough in the game.

How the Rule Affects a Coach's Decision

The rule change of 1995 that allowed the first- or second-string quarterback to re-enter the game changed the way that coaches in the NFL strategized about the quarterbacks they chose during each part of the game. For example, the NFL coaches could now consider the third-string quarterback as a more valuable player since he was allowed to enter the game even if the other two were still able to play. Also, the coaches gained a little more flexibility for the quarterbacks with the new rule.

Rule Change in 2011

In 2011, the rosters were expanded to 46 players, which meant the third-string quarterback was a full member of the active roster. Because of this, the third-string quarterback is allowed to come into the game for a short period of time during any point in the game and then the first- or second-string quarterback can immediately re-enter, instead of having to wait until the third or fourth quarter. This rule allows for the first or second quarterback to get a rest or mentally prepare to re-enter the game if he has become frazzled.

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