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What Is The Hail Mary Play In Football? [Explained]

The hail mary pass is one of the most exciting plays in football. Players, coaches, and fans often hold their breath as the ball soars through the air.

The Hail Mary play in football is throw to the endzone by the offense in a desperate attempt to score points as time expires. Hail Mary passes are often thrown at the end of the second quarter or the end of the game as time expires.

This article will show you exactly what a Hail Mary pass is and its purpose in football.

Hail Mary Pass In Football

The Hail Mary pass in football is a rare play. The play can often be seen at the end of the second quarter (right before halftime) or the end of the game.

The reason teams will throw a Hail Mary pass is to score a touchdown right before time expires.

The Hail Mary pass is a high arching pass by the quarterback, which he throws toward the end zone hoping that one of his 5 receivers will catch the ball over the defenders.

Here is a visual example of what a Hail Mary pass looks like in the NFL.

The quarterback will drop back as far as he can, then he will often throw the football as far as he possibly can. This play is a low percentage play that is often the last chance of the offense to score points.

Hail Mary passes are oftentimes not very accurate, and it’s common that the throw doesn’t reach the end zone or is thrown completely out of bounds.

The quarterback must drop back and often scramble back and forth to buy some time, so their receivers can get to the end zone.

If the quarterback doesn’t let the receivers run downfield, the throw will often not be a successful touchdown as there will be no receivers to catch the ball.

Why Do Teams Throw A Hail Mary Pass?

Coaches in football will often call a Hail Mary in a desperate attempt to score points. Hail Mary’s are often called when a team is down by 8 or fewer points, and the team needs a touchdown.

If the team is down by 9 or more points, there is no sense in throwing Hail Mary passes. It’s often strategized based on the points the offense needs.

It’s not common to throw a Hail Mary pass outside of a desperation scenario. Teams will only throw the last-second heave when there’s no other option.

This play is often thrown from a spread formation.

Where Did Hail Mary Come From In Football?

For those unfamiliar, a Hail Mary is a religious prayer. The reason it’s called a Hail Mary is because teams will often pray when they throw the ball at the end of the game as time expires. That’s why teams call it a Hail Mary, as they are throwing up a “prayer” in hopes of catching it.

Hail Mary’s are rarely caught, so the term “throwing up a prayer” was created.

Teams will have different versions of the Hail Mary, but often it’s signaled in by the coach doing the “father, son, holy spirit” mannerism.

Every team will have a Hail Mary play in their playbook, as teams will always prepare for the worst-case scenario.

What Happens If The Offense Catches A Hail Mary?

The last play of the game, or the half often called the Hail Mary, will count as a touchdown if caught.

Teams will often send their 5 best receivers down the field to wait for the football in the end zone. Quarterbacks must throw a high arching pass that gives their receivers a chance to run down the field, locate the football and successfully catch the football.

It’s doubtful that the offense will catch the football simply because there’s often a big scrum in the end zone fighting for position on the football.

The defense will often knock the football down to stop the ball from being caught by an offensive player. Defensive players that try to catch the Hail Mary pass will often tip the ball in the air, which gives the offense a second chance to catch the tipped pass.

Alternatives To The Hail Mary

If the head coach or offensive coordinator believes that their quarterback can’t reach the end zone, they may elect for laterals rather than a Hail Mary.

Laterals are when a team throws the ball backward in hopes that the defense gets tired and out of position.

A great example of this is when the Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots in the 2018 season. The Patriots were in a prevent defense, but the Miami Dolphins could lateral the ball all the way down the field and score. This is an alternative to the Hail Mary pass; however, it is harder to score later.


Hail Mary passes in football are deep passes thrown in a last-second effort to gain the lead. Teams will throw these last-second desperation passes to get points as time expires.

Every team has a Hail Mary pass in their playbook, as they always need to game plan for the worst possible scenario.

Teams will often have their starting quarterback or even their backup quarterback come in the game to throw the ball as far as they can. It’s common to have the quarterback with the strongest arm come in the game to reach the end zone, especially if it’s a far throw.