NFL Challenge Rules: How to Get a Call Overturned

NFL referees huddle to discuss a play.

There is arguably nothing worse in the NFL than when your team is on the wrong end of a bad call. Luckily for all the fans out there and the integrity of the game, certain plays can be challenged and reviewed after the fact.

So, how do challenges work in the NFL?

In the NFL, teams can challenge specific on-field calls. Each team gets two challenges per game, and if both challenges are successful, they receive a third challenge. A failed challenge results in the loss of a timeout. Challenges can review scoring plays, possession, and specific penalties.

Challenges can be a tricky subject in the NFL, and the rules are ever-evolving. One year, a certain call might not be challengeable, and the next it could be.

Throughout the rest of this article, we’ll go into more detail on which types of plays are challengeable, when challenges were added to the NFL, and how they work across the different levels of football. Make sure to keep reading!

NFL Challenge Rules

The challenge rules in the NFL enable head coaches to question specific calls made by the officials during a game. When a head coach believes the officials made an incorrect call, they can throw a red challenge flag onto the field of play before the start of the next play to signal their intent to challenge the ruling.

There are specific types of plays that can be challenged, such as possession plays involving touching the ball or ground, goal line plays, plays at the sidelines, the line of scrimmage, line to gain, as well as the number of players on the field at the snap.

It is important to note that not all plays are eligible for challenges, and certain situations require the officials to initiate a review themselves, like scoring plays or turnovers.

Each team is allowed two challenge opportunities per game. If a team is successful in both challenges, they are granted a third opportunity. However, if a challenge is unsuccessful, the team loses one of its timeouts.

This introduces a strategic element for head coaches, as they need to weigh the risk of losing a timeout against the potential gain of a successful challenge.

How Do Coaches Challenge a Play in the NFL?

In the NFL, coaches can challenge specific plays by following a set of guidelines. To initiate a challenge, a head coach must throw a red flag onto the field before the start of the next play. This alerts the referee to initiate an instant replay review of the previous play.

Each team is allowed two challenges per game. However, if a coach’s first two challenges are successful, they can earn the opportunity for a third challenge. It’s essential for coaches to assess the situation carefully before deciding to challenge, as an unsuccessful challenge can result in the loss of a timeout.

After the red flag is thrown and the challenge is initiated, referees review the play on a TV screen. They analyze multiple angles to determine whether the original call should be overturned or confirmed/stands.

How Many Challenges Do Teams Get in the NFL?

Each team in the NFL starts a game with two challenges at their disposal. These two challenges are the only ones that a team has for the duration of the game, unless certain conditions are met. If a team uses both of their initial challenges and emerges successful on both, they are granted a third challenge.

Teams can utilize their challenges on a variety of plays, including possession, goal line, sideline, line of scrimmage, and line to gain plays. Challenges can also be made in relation to the number of players on the field at the snap, even when a foul isn’t called.

When a team decides to initiate a challenge, the head coach throws a red flag onto the field. If the challenge is unsuccessful, the team is assessed a timeout. On the other hand, if the challenge is successful, no timeout is taken away, and if the team successfully challenges twice, the third challenge is granted.

Are All Football Plays Challengeable?

In the NFL, only certain plays can be challenged by head coaches during a game. Additionally, they can challenge the number of players on the field at the snap if a foul isn’t called. However, not every play is eligible for challenge, and there are specific restrictions in place.

For instance, challenges are not allowed after the two-minute warning of each half or throughout any overtime period. Coaches also cannot challenge after committing a foul that delays the next snap or after exhausting all their challenges or timeouts. This limitation allows the game to progress without excessive interruptions.

Moreover, certain penalties, such as crackback blocks, are judgment calls made by officials on the field and cannot be challenged. In these cases, it is up to the on-field referees to enforce such rules during the game.

What Happens When a Team Loses a Challenge?

A high school football referee looks on as the play unfolds.

When a team loses a challenge in the NFL, they lose a timeout. The play on the field will also go unchanged. If the challenge is successful, then the timeout remains for future use.

In addition to losing a timeout, a team must be cautious when initiating a challenge. There are specific scenarios in which a team is not permitted to challenge a play. For example, within two minutes at the end of a half, plays cannot be challenged, and all reviews will be initiated by officials.

Furthermore, there are metrics such as QBR that can be impacted by the success or failure of a challenge. This is because QBR evaluates a quarterback’s efficiency based on various factors, including the outcome of plays on the field. Therefore, a successful challenge could potentially lead to a more accurate assessment of a player’s performance.

Can You Challenge a Play Under Two Minutes?

Coaches cannot challenge plays within this time frame, and it is up to the officials to initiate any necessary reviews. This restriction applies to both the end of the first half and the end of the second half.

This rule is designed to prevent excessive stoppages in play and maintain the flow and excitement of the game as the time winds down. The replay official, who is in charge of initiating reviews within the two-minute window, must keep a close eye on plays that may require further examination.

This official has the responsibility of stopping the game and initiating a review when necessary to ensure the correct call is made on the field. In situations where a game goes into overtime, coaches are no longer allowed to challenge plays.

In this case, all replay reviews must be initiated by the replay official, who takes full responsibility for determining whether a play warrants further examination or not. This ensures that the rules remain consistent throughout the game, regardless of the situation or time on the clock.

When Were Challenges Introduced in the NFL?

The NFL first introduced the replay challenge system in 1999, as a way for coaches to request a review of on-field rulings that they believed were incorrect. This addition to the game was aimed at ensuring fair play and reducing the likelihood of controversial calls impacting the outcome of games.

Initially, the implementation of the challenge system faced some hurdles, including issues with technology and questions about which plays could be reviewed. Over time, however, the NFL has addressed these concerns and fine-tuned the rules surrounding challenges and the review process.

It’s worth noting that the league had experimented with a replay system before 1999; however, those earlier attempts were halted due to many similar issues as previously mentioned. The current challenge system implemented in 1999 has evolved since its inception, with the league consistently making updates to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.

One of the notable changes to the challenge rules came in 2019 when the NFL expanded the types of plays that could be challenged to include pass interference calls. This expansion was largely a response to a highly controversial non-call during the 2018 NFC Championship Game.

How Do Challenges Work at Other Levels?


At the youth football level, there may be rules in place for video reviews, depending on the league’s guidelines. However, many youth leagues do not have instant replay technology available, which makes it difficult for coaches to challenge calls on the field. Typically, challenges and reviews depend on the organization’s resources and guidelines.


In college football, the challenge system is somewhat different from the NFL. According to the NCAA football rules, each team is allowed one challenge per game. To initiate a challenge, the head coach must request a timeout and inform the referee that they would like to challenge a specific ruling on the field. 

If the challenge is successful, the team will not be charged a timeout, but if it fails, the team will lose a timeout. Coaches can only challenge specific types of plays, such as possession, out-of-bounds, and scoring plays, among others.

Canadian Football League

In the Canadian Football League (CFL), the challenge system works similarly to the NCAA. Each team is allowed two challenges per game, with the potential for a third if both initial challenges are successful. To initiate a challenge, the head coach must throw a red flag before the start of the next play. 

The CFL allows coaches to challenge a wider range of plays than the NFL, including pass interference and other penalty calls. A failed challenge will result in the loss of a timeout, while a successful challenge will not affect the team’s timeouts.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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