An incomplete pass occurs when the ball is knocked free before it is secured by the body or beneath an arm. A fumble occurs when the ball becomes loose after it has been grasped. In both cases, play continues with no official score given.
An incomplete pass cannot be saved by a kick at any time during play. A fumble can be recovered by either team provided it is done before it is lost by gravity or contact. If a player falls on top of the ball, it is considered to be in possession of the opponent; if the player does not have control of it, it is a loss. If a player loses control of the ball while he is being tackled or after he has been pushed out of bounds, it is a fumble. If a player picks up a live ball that was not intended for him, it is a fumble. Even if there is no opportunity to pick up the ball because players from both teams are on it, the rule applies. For example, if a quarterback fumbles the ball and one of his teammates recovers it before it hits the ground, the team that lost possession will not get another chance to do so.
In addition to those instances where a fumble cannot be saved, there is also one instance where an incomplete pass cannot be taken back into play.
An incomplete throw moves the clock forward by one second, but the offensive team gets 0 yards. The game clock has been stopped. A fumble occurs when a receiver gets the ball and has possession of it before losing control for whatever reason and a player from the other team catches it. If a receiver fumbles the ball and it goes out of bounds, the defensive team gets the ball at the spot of the foul. If it stays in bounds, the defensive team must attempt to return it inside the 20-yard line. An interception is any touchback recovered by the defense with their opponent still having the ball. It stops the clock as well as preventing another touchdown.
In conclusion, an incomplete pass allows your team to continue playing the game from where they left off while a fumble or an interception ends the game.
If a catch of a forward throw has been made and a defender makes contact, causing the ball to come away before the runner goes down by contact, it is a fumble and the ball stays alive. If a chase down occurs after the ball is in the air and caught, the ball is dead and should not be touched once it hits the ground.
COMPLETE PASSAGE. Any forward pass (legal or illegal) is unfinished, and the ball is dead as soon as it hits the ground or travels out of bounds. An incomplete pass results in a down loss, and the ball returns to its prior location. Otherwise, it would be impossible to advance the ball with enough time left on the clock to mount a successful offensive attempt.
In addition to being penalized 15 yards, the player completing the pass is also subject to a personal foul penalty. If it was not apparent that he had possession of the ball before it hit the ground, then the referee has no choice but to rule him down by contact. If, however, he does have possession, then he can stay inbounds and continue running with the ball or he can throw it away if he feels like it's too risky. Either way, he cannot be penalized again for the same incident.
There are times when a quarterback may want to throw an incomplete pass instead of risking a fumble. For example, if they are close to the goal line and have first-and-goal situation, they could try to scramble for a yard or two before throwing. This would be considered an incomplete pass because they would still be able to run with the ball once they get past the line of scrimmage.
Finally, an incomplete pass can be thrown while behind the line of scrimmage.
If a backward pass is not collected and hits the ground, the ball stays alive and can be recovered by any player on either team. If the opposition team recovers the ball, the play is called a fumble. If no one does, then the team that lost the ball has another chance to score.
This rule was adopted in 2002 by the NFL in response to increased use of forward passes in college football. Prior to this change, if a forward pass was thrown and not caught, the ball would be dead and could not be returned. This new rule allows both college and pro football teams to utilize more advanced passing schemes while still providing a level field for competition.
There have been several incidents over the years where players have been injured after fumbles were allowed to remain live. In some cases, these injuries may have been avoided if the ball was awarded to the opposing team when it hit the ground. However, this doesn't seem to have deterred coaches from trying to return fumbles forwardly anymore than other rules changes have.
In addition to being concerned about possible injury, coaches may also want to keep the offense on the field to set up another opportunity to score. If they believe they can recover the ball, they will often go for it even if there are men near them on their side of the field.