American Football Database

In sports, running out the clock (also known as stonewalling, killing the clock, stalling or sandbagging) refers to the practice of a winning team allowing the clock to expire through a series of pre-selected plays, either to preserve a lead or hasten the end of a one-sided contest.

American football

In American football, a 15-minute game clock is used in each quarter of a game. In both college football and professional football, the game clock stops when an incomplete pass is thrown. The game clock stops if a player in possession of the ball steps out of the field of play in the last 2 minutes of the first half or the last 5 minutes of the second half. A team in possession of the lead and the ball will attempt to use up as much of the game clock as possible in order to bring the game to an end more quickly, thus denying the opposition another chance on offense.

Typically, the leading team will execute a series of simple rushing plays (the clock does not stop moving at the conclusion of a rushing play unless the rusher steps out of bounds) or one or more quarterback kneels. A team will often accept a loss of yardage in order to drain more time from the game clock, as time elapsed is considered more valuable than yardage to a team with the lead. Passing plays are not typically used by a team running out the clock, as an incomplete pass will cause the game clock to stop. Passing plays always carry the risk of interception, and spread the offense widely across the field, which makes tackling after an interception much harder compared to a fumble. If the ball passes out of bounds, the clock will also stop. This leads to teams running plays in the middle of the field in order to minimize the chance that the ball will travel out of bounds. Running plays also carry a much lower chance of turning the ball over and of a turnover resulting in a score or significant gain for the defense. Relatively safe, short, West Coast offense-type passes can be, and sometimes are, included in attempts to run out the clock, especially if more yardage is needed to earn a first down and maintain possession.

In both professional and, in college football (since the 2008-09 season), the offense has 40 seconds from the end of the previous play to run the next play. A team running out the clock will allow the play clock (which records the time remaining until a play must be run) to drain as much as possible before running its next play. In the NFL, this is particularly noteworthy due to the existence of the two-minute warning. If the trailing team has no timeouts remaining and the leading team is in possession of the ball with a first down at the two-minute warning, they can effectively run out the clock and win the game without running another positive play. With two minutes to go (120 seconds), the offense can take three "knees", one each on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down (using all 40 seconds from the play clock on each), and allow the game clock to expire before having to run a play for fourth down. A similar situation can be had by also achieving a first down inside the two-minute warning. This practice is commonly known as the "Victory Formation", as the offense lines up in a tightly-protective "V" formation to minimize the chances of a fumble or other turnover.

Conversely, a team that faces the risk of the other team running out the clock may attempt to force its opponent to score so it can quickly get the ball back. In Super Bowl XLVI, for example, the New England Patriots were ahead of the New York Giants 17–15 with 1:04 left in the fourth quarter. The Giants were at the Patriots' six-yard line, however, and the Patriots had only one time-out left. The Giants elected to run out as much time as possible and then kick a relatively short field goal to take a late lead. Had the Giants been successful in this strategy it would have left the Patriots with no timeouts and less than 20 seconds remaining to score. The Patriots thus let Ahmad Bradshaw score a touchdown in hopes of scoring a touchdown of their own before the game's end. Bradshaw, aware of the Patriots' strategy, attempted to stop himself from crossing the goal line but was unsuccessful as his momentum carried him forward. The Patriots then received the ball with 57 seconds remaining, but failed to score, and the Giants won 21–17.[1]

Canadian football

Although Canadian football is fairly similar to its American cousin, several differences between the two codes make running out the clock much more difficult in the Canadian game:

  • Teams are allowed only three downs to advance the ball 10 yards without losing possession, as opposed to four in the American game.
  • The offensive team has only 20 seconds after the ball is whistled into play to start a new play, as opposed to 25 seconds in American high school football and 40 seconds from the end of the last play in college football and the NFL.
  • After the three-minute warning in Canadian football, two key timing changes occur:
    • The clock stops after every play. The clock restarts when the referee whistles the ball in play after a tackle in bounds, and with the snap after an incomplete pass or a tackle out of bounds.
    • A "time count" (the same foul as "delay of game" in American football), which is a 5-yard penalty (with the down repeated) at other points in the game, becomes a loss of down penalty on first or second down and a 10-yard penalty on third down. Additionally, the referee has the right to give possession to the defensive team for repeated deliberate time count violations on third down.
  • If the clock hits 0:00 between plays, Canadian teams are required to execute one final play, even if the ball has not yet been snapped. In the American game, if the clock hits 0:00, the game is over unless a play is in progress, the offense chooses to run a play after the defense committed a penalty on the previous play, the defense chooses to receive a safety-kick after the offense commits a foul resulting in a safety, a touchdown was scored by the offense on the previous play resulting in a try or point after touchdown, or the receiving team chooses to perform a fair-catch kick.

These differences make for radically different endgames if the team with the lead has the ball. In the NFL or NCAA, a team can run slightly more than 120 seconds (2 minutes) off the clock without gaining a first down (assuming that the defensive team is out of timeouts). In the Canadian game, just over 40 seconds can be run off.

Association football

A similar pattern of play can occur towards the end of association football matches, with a team protecting a lead by retaining possession, standing on or crowding around a stationary ball (particularly in the vicinity of the other team's corner flag), and generally trying to prevent the other team from gaining possession. Tactics like these are seen as unsporting in football; world governing body FIFA has attempted to outlaw teams using stalling tactics (most notably the back-pass rule, introduced in 1992, which forbids the goalkeeper using his hands to pick up a pass from a team-mate), and referees may show a yellow card to any player they feel is excessively trying to kill the game and run out the clock.

Australian rules football

In a close game, Australian rules football players will run the clock down by kicking the ball between the defenders while having no intention of a forward thrust, or by advancing the ball with short, low-risk kicks. Each time a mark is taken, the player can run approximately eight seconds off the clock before being required to play on – and may continue to run time off the clock if no opponents pressure them after the call of play on is made. Strategically, running down the clock can be stifled by playing man-on-man defence, in an attempt to force the opposition to kick to a contest, creating the chance for a turnover.


In basketball, teams that are in the lead frequently use a lead protection offense in the late stages of a game - that is, go into a "stall" mode by holding the ball and passing sporadically. At levels where a shot clock is used, teams will take shots only if the clock is nearing zero. If the game is still somewhat competitive, the trailing team will foul the player with the ball to stop the clock and send him or her to the free throw line in hopes of regaining possession, even if it means the other team will score points.

Other Sports

A game clock is used to prevent players from overly delaying the game.
A team must advance the ball from its defensive square to the midfield line within 20 seconds and then into the offensive square within 10 additional seconds or lose possession; additionally, a team in possession that appears to be Stonewalling by not attacking the goal may be ordered by the referee to stay within the attacking box or lose possession. Additionally, Major League Lacrosse and most forms of indoor lacrosse employ a shot clock as with basketball.
Ice hockey
A team which shoots the puck backward over its own goal line in an effort to Stonewall is guilty of icing, and the puck is brought to the other end of the ice for a face-off; the rule is not in effect when a team is playing shorthanded due to a penalty. Additionally, a player (usually a goalkeeper) may be charged with a minor (two-minute) penalty for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass and out of play.
Water polo
a 30-second shot clock is employed, in much the same manner as basketball.
Tournaments often use hand-for-hand play at key points in the tournament to discourage stalling. Also, any player may "call the clock" on another player if he takes too long with a decision. This gives that player one minute to make his decision; if he does not act, his hand is declared dead.

See also