A timeout is called by either the coaches or the players to stop the game. A timeout can be called for a number of reasons. There are also TV timeouts, which are called to allow the media to air commercials. Timeouts are used by coaches to discuss important strategies when a team needs inspiration or is struggling. They can also be used to avoid a team being penalized for delaying the game. Calling a timeout stops the clock and is a major part of strategy. In the NFL, the clock continuously runs between plays unless there is a penalty, an incomplete pass, a discussion among the officials to make important decisions about the placement of the ball, or when the ball is run out of bounds, so when a timeout is called it can extend the time a team has to score.

Timeouts are usually called by the head coach or by particular players such as the quarterback or a linebacker. Each team is allowed three timeouts per half. Unused timeouts can carry over between quarters but not between halves; therefore, a team has a total of six timeouts in a regulation game. The length of a timeout is determined by whether a commercial break is necessary. If a commercial break on television is utilized, a timeout is two minutes in length.  When there are no more commercial breaks left or the amount designated has been exhausted during a quarter, the timeout will then be 30 seconds. If the game goes into overtime, each team is given two timeouts in a 15-minute sudden-death period. If a team has used all of its timeouts and attempts to call another one, it is ignored and no penalty is given. A team should not use all of its timeouts, though, because the team should have at least one left to challenge an official’s call.

It is common practice for a timeout to be called right before a possible game-winning or game-tying field goal. This strategy is known as “icing the kicker.” The strategy has worked on occasion because the kicker has taken the time to mentally prepare himself before the kick. Then once the timeout is called, his concentration is distracted and broken. On the other hand, this practice is so common that kickers are aware of the possibility that a timeout can be called if the opposing team still has one, and they don’t allow themselves to be affected by it.

Another significant use for a timeout is when the leading team has possession of the ball with not much time left on the clock. The leading team often has the quarterback kneel down with the ball, which can run off the last 90 seconds to up to 2 minutes of the game clock with three successive kneels. If the trailing team calls timeouts to stop the clock, they may be able to force the leading team to make a choice about what they’ll do during the fourth down (punt or run another play to try to make a first down). In this way, the trailing team may be able to regain possession of the ball.

Article Written by: Erin Irish


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