Two-minute warning

Two-minute warning

For the 1976 film, see Two-Minute Warning.
In the National Football League, the two-minute warning is given when two minutes of game time remain on the game clock in each half of a game, i.e. near the end of the second and fourth quarters. (If the football is in play when the clock reaches 2:00, the two-minute warning is called immediately after the play concludes, when the ball is declared dead.) The two-minute warning stops the game clock in all cases.


This event dates from the days in the NFL when the official game time was kept by a member of the officiating crew, with the stadium clock being unofficial (as is still the case with international soccer, for example). Its purpose was a checkpoint to ensure that the teams knew how much time remained in the game. Since the late 1960s the NFL stadium clock has been official, but by then television was an important factor in the NFL. So the two-minute warning was retained as a commercial break and to serve as "tension building" time, and thus has become an important part of the game's flow.


In addition to those practical purposes, over time some rules have evolved that are unique to the final two minutes of each half. There is no special event at the ends of the first and third quarters, aside from swapping end zones, so there is no two-minute warning then, but only at the halves:

  • If a player is injured while the clock is running and his team has used all three of its timeouts for the half, the team is awarded a fourth timeout without penalty to allow the injured player to be removed from the field, and ten seconds are allowed to elapse on the game clock (which may end the half or the game). For all subsequent injuries, the team is penalized five yards for each injury timeout awarded. This rule is intended to prevent teams from feigning injuries to stop the clock in crucial situations (there is also the requirement, not just in last 2 minutes, that the injured player be sidelined for at least 1 play).
  • Coaches may not challenge officials' calls for review by instant replay. Any replay reviews must be initiated by an official called the replay assistant.
  • Offensive penalties that require clock and play stoppages include a ten second runoff from the game clock in addition to the usual penalty.
  • The half cannot end on a defensive penalty, unless the offensive team declines the penalty. Thus, the final two minutes could run longer than the two minutes on the clock.
  • The only time the two-minute warning was used in a college football game was in 1931 Bucknell vs. Temple after the a power outage and a regular wrist watch was used to keep track of the time in the game
  • In case of a fumble, no member of the fumbling team other than the player who fumbled the ball is authorized to advance the ball. This rule was put in place after the infamous holy roller play in a 1978 game between the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

The two-minute warning in the fourth quarter is an important milestone in the game for a team that is in the lead and looking to run out the clock. If the leading team has the ball on first down with less than two minutes to go in the game and the opposing team has no timeouts remaining, the quarterback can often safely end the game by "taking a knee" three times in succession without risking injuries or turnovers. This is because at the end of each play, the offensive team can take up to 40 seconds to start running the next play.


The NCAA, which is the governing body for college football in the United States, has no two-minute warning, although the official NCAA rule book requires the referee to inform the field captain and head coach of each team when "approximately two minutes of playing time" remain in each half, in the unlikely event that a visual game clock (e.g., on the stadium scoreboard) is not being used as the official game timepiece.

Other Football Leagues

The two-minute warning was also used in NFL Europa. The CFL has a three-minute warning. In the Arena Football League, there is a one-minute warning.

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