Football terminology is similar to all terminology in the English language: there a multiple terms for the same thing that sound the same but aren’t the same and can’t always be used interchangeably but sometimes can.
But just like there/their/they’re, there are easy ways to remember which terms go with which actions once you know what they mean. So consider this a little grammar lesson for turnovers! It’s going to be way less painful than any other grammar lesson you’ve ever had!
You’ve probably heard all of the terms listed in the title at some point in time: Turnover, fumble, interception, pick 6. They all have to do with a similar event, but all mean separate things. Let’s go through them from least specific to most specific:
Turnover: A turnover happens when the team that has possession of the ball loses possession of the ball and the other team gains possession of the ball as a result. They are literally turning the ball over (giving it over) to the other team, hence the term “turnover.” When the running back is carrying and the ball comes lose and the other team recovers it, it’s a turnover. When a defensive back picks off a pass intended for a wide receiver, it’s a turnover. Any time the team that had the ball loses the ball and the other team recovers it, it’s a turnover.
Fumble: To fumble, as a verb, literally means to, “use the hands clumsily while doing or handling something.” And that’s what it means in football, too. It’s when the football is mishandled in one way or another and ends up on the ground. You may have heard of quarterbacks “fumbling the snap,” which is really a joint effort between the center and the quarterback to not get the snap off correctly. You’ll notice a fumbled snap when the ball is bouncing around somewhere in between the center and the quarterback and everyone on the field is trying to jump on it. Fumbles can also occur when a ball carrier gets distracted or loses his grip or runs into any set of circumstances in which he loses possession of the ball. There are also forced fumbles, which occur when a defensive player causes the impetus for the fumble, usually by punching the ball out from behind. Fumbles all relate to the football being on the ground when it isn’t supposed to be.
Not all fumbles are turnovers. If the other team recovers the fumbled ball, it is a turnover. But if the team previously in possession recovers the ball – like if the snap is fumbled but an offensive linemen jumps on it to recover it – then they keep possession of the ball. It is not a turnover. It is cause for celebration.
Interception: An interception is when a pass intended for an offensive player is caught by a defensive player instead. This happens most frequently when defensive backs (cornerbacks and safeties) pick off a pass intended for a wide receiver. Interceptions also happen often when a quarterback throws a bad pass, or when a receiver runs a bad route and isn’t where he was supposed to be, or when the ball gets tipped.
Interceptions always refer to passing plays (or any play in which the ball goes through the air without hitting the ground first) and are always turnovers (because the other team is catching the ball, and therefore has possession of it).
Pick 6: A Pick 6 is a specific type of interception in which a pass is picked off by a defensive player (hence “pick”) and is returned for a touchdown (hence “6” – since touchdowns are worth 6 points). All Pick 6’s are both interceptions and turnovers.
So, to review:
A turnover is any time when the team that was in possession of the ball loses possession of the ball and the other team gains it as a result.
(Turnovers = other team gains possession.)
A fumble is when the ball is mishandled and ends up on the ground.
(Fumbles = on the ground.)
An interception is when the ball doesn’t go through the air to it’s intended target and gets caught by a defensive player. Interceptions are always turnovers.
(Interception = turnover through the air.)
A Pick 6 is an interception that gets run into the opponent’s end zone for a touchdown.
(Pick 6 = interception returned for a touchdown.)
See? Easier than English, right?!