Pass interference limits apply only beyond the neutral zone and only if the lawful forward pass in or behind the neutral zone, unaffected by B, crosses the neutral zone. All A and B players are subject to pass interference limitations until the ball is touched or the pass is incomplete. If a receiver is interfered with before he has a chance to catch the ball, it's a penalty.
In addition to the basic requirements for pass interference, there is also optional additional interference. This occurs when a defender clearly tries to prevent a forward progress of the ball, even though it may not be completely clear whether he succeeds in doing so. The penalty for this type of interference is a loss of down.
For example, a defender tries to tackle a player short of the line but misses and instead hits him in the back. This is illegal contact and can result in a penalty flag being thrown on the play. If this happens near the goal line, the referee will stop the game and issue a free kick to the other team. Otherwise, the play would continue and the player who was tackled could run into the end zone for a touchdown.
Similarly, if a defender starts to break up a pass and then pulls his arm away from the body, this is called "self-interference". Again, a loss of down results if this violation occurs within the last three yards of the try line.
Pass interference occurs only when a forward pass is thrown from behind the line of scrimmage, regardless of whether the pass is legal or unlawful or crosses the line. From the time the ball is thrown until it is touched, defensive pass interference rules apply. If a player interferes with an illegal forward pass, he can be penalized by the umpire or coach for unsportsmanlike conduct.
In addition, if a forward pass is not caught by a receiver who was inbounds, then it is considered to have been dropped and will not be in play. Therefore, even if a forward pass is not completed, any defender who interfered with it would be called for a penalty. Interference that results in a loss of possession of the ball is referred to as defensive pass interference. Interference that does not result in a loss of possession is known as offensive pass interference.
Interference on a forward pass can also occur outside the lines of scrimmage. For example, a defender may hit a quarterback while he's under center during a snap from center. This type of interference is known as "blitzing" and usually results in a 15-yard penalty unless the defense gets off easy because of penalties earlier in the game.
Finally, a defender cannot block (or attempt to block) a forward pass by a player who has been injured, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to carry out the pass.
If a forward pass is not thrown, then no penalty will be called.
In addition, even if a forward pass is not completed because it was intercepted by a defender, interference would still be called if the offensive player's action was sufficient to cause his opponent to have possession of the ball. For example, if an offensive player pulls up lame after making a reception and cannot continue playing, any defensive players who come within grasping distance of the ball can secure it. Even if they do not touch it, they have interfered with the play.
Finally, even if a receiver does not catch the ball but is hit as he's trying to avoid being tackled, that contact would be considered a foul against the receiver if he was inbounds at the time. The rule is designed to protect receivers who are still running after the ball is in air.
Interference does not have to be a catchable ball for it to be called. If a receiver is hit while he has neither the ball nor any opportunity to get it, officials have the right to call interference on the opposing team.
Summary of the Rules See the Official Rules. Any act by a player more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage that seriously hampers an eligible player's opportunity to catch the ball is considered pass interference by either team. If no penalty is called, then the opposition can challenge this decision by pointing out that the play did not affect the outcome of the game. The referee will make the final call on whether or not this was pass interference.
An example from a recent NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants took place with 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the score being tied at 10-10. With 1:03 remaining, quarterback Dak Prescott threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to receiver Michael Gallup. On the play, there was contact between two defenders with both players going for the ball; however, the ball landed in Gallup's hands first, so it is reasonable to conclude that he had control of it before any other player got a hand on it. Thus, this was not pass interference and Gallop was allowed to stay in the game.
The next foul incident occurred with 2:50 remaining in the same game. This time, it was cornerback Byron Jones who committed the infraction by grabbing a jersey of Gallup while trying to break up the pass.
Pass interference on defense is only permitted in the area of the field where the ball is thrown. Contact with an eligible receiver anywhere else on the field is considered unlawful use of hands, holding, or a personal foul. Pass interference can also be called when a defender grabs an opponent's facemask while both players are outside of the passing zone.
In addition, defensive players cannot reach over the top of their opponents; this is known as "hooking." If a player does hook an opponent, they have committed illegal contact and can be penalized by having their hands placed on their opponents' shoulders.
Finally, defensive players cannot wrap their arms around an opponent unless it is within their body's natural span. For example, a defensive back cannot put his arm around a wide receiver if he has reached him first. However, it is legal for a defensive back to grab an opponent by the shoulder to prevent him from breaking away from a pass.
Illegal contact can be called anytime a defensive player makes contact with an opponent beyond what is allowed by the rules. Pass interference can be called on any play during regular season games. In post-season play (including the Super Bowl), coaches can challenge any call made by officials on their own team's plays. If overruled, the call will be changed to a penalty against the challenging team.