Out of Bounds
Football Terms – The Sidelines
Out of Bounds is the area outside of the playing field. When a ball carrier steps out of bounds, then the play is over. Out of Bounds is synonymous with the terms "the sidelines", which are generally denoted as the white area bounding the green grass of the playing field.
Out of Bounds Rules
There are several "out of bounds" rules in football. For instance, in college football, a receiver (player receiving the ball on a pass) must get on foot "in bounds" for the reception to be legal. That is, one foot must come down on the playing field before it touches out of bounds.
In the NFL game, a receiver must touch both feet in boards for the reception to stand. This makes a sideline catch much more difficult. In the 2008 offseason, an even more restrictive rule was put in place, though.
Getting a Foot Down
Prior to the 2008 NFL season, if a receiver was forced out of bounds by a defender, but it appeared as if the wide receiver was going to get his feet down, the catch was ruled a reception. Now, if a defender forces his opponent out of bounds before two feet are down, the catch is ruled an incomplete.
This rule is meant to take judgment calls out of the hands of officials, and thereby make their job simpler and less controversial. If used correctly, though, the new out of bounds rule should be a major advantage for defenders along the sideline. The rule is a win for the defense, when in recent years, most rules changes have favored the offesne (in an attempt to drive fan interest, which usually prefers more scoring).
Late Hits Along the Sidelines
When a ball carrier runs out of bounds, there are rules which regulate when a defender can hit or tackle his opponent. Generally, if a player take a step out of bounds, then the defense can no longer hit them. This is called a "late hit", and is flagged by a 15-yard penalty.
Once again, this is a judgment call which often causes controversy, because some fans believe the officials are too quick to call late hits on the defense, especially when star players and quarterbacks are involved in the hit.
Out of Bounds Clock Stoppages
Also, there are rules involving the out-of-bounds area and clock stoppage. It used to be that, anytime a player stepped out of bounds, the play clock stopped. To shorten the length of games, the NFL instituted in the 1990′s rules which limits clock stoppages.
Now, the clock stops on an out of bounds play only in the final 2 minutes of the first half and the final 5 minutes of the second half. The idea is this would keep the clock moving and hopefully keep game length to somewhere around 3 hours, where some games had extended closer to 4 hours.
Editorializing – Out of Bounds Plays
One unintended side effect of this rule was to limit the opportunity for teams to make comebacks. Because there were typically more clock stoppages in the earlier era, quarterbacks like Joe Montana, Roger Staubach and John Elway became famous for mounting heroic comebacks. The Buffalo Bills mounted a comeback from a 35-3 deficit to win a playoff game against the Houston Oilers.
Today, such comebacks are next to impossible. Since the clock keeps running throughout most of the game, the actual game time is shortened somewhat. While comebacks continue to happen (and the case of the Indianapolis Colts vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football is a rare exception of a big, late-game comeback), these comebacks are usually of a more limited nature in modern NFL football. If the 4th quarter goes quicker, there just won’t be as many big 4th quarter comebacks.