The game over here is called football. Unlike the international version, we don’t watch this sport for kicks.
But that’s beside the point.
We watch for long, beautiful passes, like when Washington’s Kirk Cousins hit Pierre Garcon in stride for a 70-yard touchdown Sunday night against Green Bay. We keep an eye out for lengthy, exhilarating runs, like when Skins halfback Rob Kelley burst into the secondary and raced downfield on a 66-yard dash. We tune in for the thrill of “Fumble!”, like when cornerback Josh Norman executed a patented punchout against Packers tight end Jared Cook.
Ultimately, we watch and wait for the sport’s most satisfying moment when your team has the ball, like when Cousins took a knee in victory formation after a 42-24 rout. Those are the plays that keep us coming back to stadiums and our TV sets again and again.
The conversion kick?
Not so much.
For something that’s considered an “extra” point, it adds little to the game and less to our excitement. Even with the longer attempts implemented last season – when the NFL moved kicks from the 2-yard line to the 15 – the point-after has remained the perfect time for a bathroom break.
Nothing has really changed … except the fact you might miss a miss.
An NFL single-day record 12 extra-point attempts were unsuccessful Sunday. That includes the penultimate boot by Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins, who bonked it off the right upright. Blustery conditions led coach Jay Gruden to pass up an earlier PATin favor of a two-point try. “You saw the wind,” he said afterward. “That’s why.”
Gruden also might’ve seen the epidemic that spread through the league. Weather was a factor in places such as at MetLife Stadium, where New York Giants kicker Robbie Gould missed twice and Chicago Bears counterpart Connor Barth was off-target once. But conditions were perfect inside Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions’ Matt Prater and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Jason Myers each botched an attempt.
So the extra-long extra-point is a thing in the NFL today.
The problem is figuring out what to make of it. I’m not sure.
The league lengthened the kick because it had become too automatic. Misses occurred less than one percent of the time since the start of the 2010 season until the change was enacted. But requiring a boot from 32-33 yards hasn’t lowered the odds drastically. Thirty kickers were successful on at least 90 percent of their PATs entering Week 11; the NFL average was 94.8 percent.
But how much entertainment value can we extract from extra-points? Make or miss, the three-part plays remain the same: snap, hold, kick.
Do we really want game outcomes decided on what traditionally has been a gimme? It’s much easier to accept Hopkins shanking a chip-shot field goal in overtime, opposed to, say, Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent hitting the upright on two PATs in a four-point loss. The Bengals could’ve won on a field goal from Buffalo’s 27-yard line at the end on Sunday; instead, they needed a touchdown and couldn’t deliver.
Yes, the Denver-New Orleans game in Week 10 was crazy. The Broncos blocked the would-be go-ahead extra point, returning it 84 yards for a defensive two-point conversion and a 25-23 victory. But is that low-probability drama worth disrupting the historical relationship between touchdowns and seven points?
The answer would be clearer if longer PATs led to a sharp rise in two-point attempts. We’d much rather watch a play from scrimmage instead of a 33-yard kick. But NFL coaches prefer to lose traditionally if the alternative is trying something “radical” to win.
Teams were converting 55 percent of their two-point attempts entering Week 11, so the success rate is still much lower than kicks. Very few coaches aside from Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin are comfortable going for two unless it’s absolutely necessary. “We want to be aggressive,” Tomlin said after the Steelers went 0-for-4 against the Cowboys in Week 10. “That’s not out of line with our personality.”
Pittsburgh set a record for successful two-point conversions last year (eight in 11 attempts), and is 3-for-7 this season. On the flip side we have teams such as the Bengals, Bears, Texans, Jets, Patriots and Giants, who haven’t deigned to even try a two-pointer.
Sunday’s rash of failed extra points is likely more outlier than trend. The longer kicks are as boring as the shorter ones and nearly as automatic. But the prospect of misses and blocks has added new levels of intrigue and strategy after touchdowns.
I guess that’s better than less intrigue and strategy. I’m just not convinced it makes for better games altogether. A larger sample size is necessary before we leap to conclusions either way. but the league might need to tinker with this phase a bit more.
Something about it doesn’t feel quite right.