WORRIED that the extra point had become so automatic for NFL teams that fans had lost interest in the play, the league famously changed the XP rules before the 2015 season.
It turned a 19-yard chip shot extra point into a 33-yard boot that, given the increased proficiency of modern-day kickers, should have still been just on the brink of automatic. But a funny thing happened.
On point-after attempts, NFL kickers have all of a sudden turned into that 5-foot-6 freshman kicker you always see timidly entering an SEC game late in the fourth quarter. This week, the league set a new one-week record with 11 missed extra points (and counting).
Kickers from the Bears, Giants (x2), Bengals (x2), Lions, Vikings, Jaguars, Browns, Patriots and Seahawks all missed conversions — nine that either plunked an upright or went wide and two that were blocked.
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Eleven kicks in a single afternoon, on top of the six missed last week. To put that into perspective, kickers missed eight extra points in the entire 2014 season — total.
Moving back obviously played a major role in the new normal, but it doesn’t explain everything. In 2013 and 2014 kickers made 97.6 per cent of field goals of 30-39 yards when they were kicked from the centre of the field. It wasn’t quite the 99 per cent rate of extra points, but given that the new distance (33 yards) is on the lower end of that 30-39-yard spectrum, it was fair to assume the new one-point conversions would be virtual chip shots instead.
It didn’t turn out that way. In 2015, kickers hit on 94.2 per cent of extra points, the worst total since 1979 (which should tell you something about the evolution of kickers considering that extra points were of the 18-/19-yard variety back then). This year, the rate was slightly better than 2015 entering Week 11 and should actually only drop to a similar level even adding Sunday’s carnage.
So we’re talking about 5 per cent, right? What’s the big deal? We live with field goals just fine. No one argues against Super Bowls being won or lost on the foot of a kicker — right, Scott Norwood and Adam Vinatieri? So what is it about extra points?
People don’t tune into the NFL to watch a kicking contest. We’ll take the necessary evil of field goals, which are earned rewards (or penalties). But to turn every scoring play into a requiem for a place-kicker? Nobody wants it or needs it.
No games on Sunday were decided by less than the amount of points a kicker left on the field, so you can’t point to a single kick and say it changed the result of a game. But these missed kicks have a domino effect that’s impossible to quantify. They change the flow of a game. And though they may be leading to more two-point tries, is that actually better? Other than extra points being deathly boring, was anyone complaining about them — truly complaining, not correctly identifying them as a nuisance — before the rule change?
Now they’re a nuisance, a drag, an annoyance and a game-changer, all at once. The whole thing is bizarre, frankly. Seattle’s Steven Hauschka is better on field goals than extra points (he’s missed four of the latter) and he’s attempted seven field goals from more than 40 yards! There most be some sort of mental component that either puts more pressure on a kicker or makes the implied inevitability of an extra point lead to kickers letting down their guards. Whatever it is, the NFL’s goal of making the extra point more important has succeeded even though it solved a problem no one asked for. The game is hard enough. Don’t put it on the foot of Kai Forbath again and again.