A pass is a type of play in American football. Passes take place when one offensive player throws the ball to another player on the same team, typically down the field towards the ultimate goal: the end zone. A pass is sometimes known as a forward pass, because the idea is to throw the ball beyond the line of scrimmage.
The pass play was not always a part of football. When the game started at colleges in the 1870′s, football more closely resembled rugby. Over the next several decades, though, innovations like the flying wedge formation made football an extremely dangerous game, and there were several deaths per year. To make the game safer and to increase a team’s offensive options, the flying wedge was outlawed and the forward pass was allowed.
For decades after the invention of the pass, football coaches preferred the tried-and-true method of running the ball down the field. For most of football history, running has been the dominant method of offensive football. In recent decades, the game has evolved on the college and pro football levels, so that now the pass is the preferred method of offense for many teams. New offensive strategies have been devised to help facilitate the pass.
Most passes are executed by the quarterback. The quarterback is the player who takes the snap from the center, then distributes the ball to one of the team’s other players. This might be done by a handoff, a pitch or a pass.
The most common recipient of the pass is the wide receiver, sometimes known as the flanker, the split end or the wideout. These players’ main goal is to run pass routes to gain separate from the defender, thereby allowing the quarterback to throw them a pass. If the pass is caught by the receiver, it is called a completion.
A tight end is sort of like a wide receiver, except he lines up beside the offensive line. The tight end is use for blocking on run plays and pass plays more often than receivers, though his other function is to run pass routes in the middle of the field. Certain tight ends, like Tony Gonzales, Shannon Sharpe and Kellen Winslow, are known more for their pass catching than their blocking.
Halfbacks and fullbacks also catch passes out of the backfield. These players tend to run swing patterns or screen plays, though they are sometimes sent in motion to act as slot receivers.
A lateral pass is a backwards pass sometimes used in football. The lateral is legal in football and — in fact — multiple laterals can be thrown on a football play. The quarterback can throw a lateral to a receiver, who may in turn throw a forward pass down the field. This forward pass is legal only if the player throwing the pass is behind the line of scrimmage, though.
The lateral has no restrictions. So a lateral can take place behind the line of scrimmage or beyond it. On the other hand, if a lateral is dropped by its targets, the play is ruled a fumble and not an incompletion. This means the play is still "live" and the defense can fall on the ball and gain possession.
Note that there is no such thing as a forward lateral, since the two terms contradict one another. At the same time, you will find the term often used in a football game to denote when a player receives a lateral, passes the line of scrimmage and then throws the ball (illegally, because he’s passed the line of scrimmage.) This play is generally referred to as an illegal forward pass (properly) or an illegal forward lateral.
In the NFL and even at lower levels of football, the pass is becoming an ever-larger part of the game. College teams are moving to passing offenses hoping to recruit the best athletes, who want to play in exciting offenses. Because of the high-flying aspect to passing, fans and players often prefer it to the steady but plodding running game.
New rules changes in the NFL mean that passing records are being broken seemingly every NFL season. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Randy Moss have each broken significant pass records in the past few seasons.