When the NFL Competition Committee proposed changes to the Point After Touchdown (PAT), the idea was to “make the play less automatic and more exciting.” And through the first month of the NFL season, it’s working like a charm. By moving the ball back to the 15-yard line, the league has turned the extra point from a mundane moment into a mid-range field goal. Not only do we see more adventures in kicking, but sports fans and media outlets alike are captivated by the new rule and its effects on the game. No one dares turn away when a kicker stands at the ready. Except the sky isn’t really falling and kickers aren’t actually a dying breed. It’s not nearly as depressing as you think.
In the first four weeks of the NFL slate, kickers have misfired on 17 total PAT tries, more than double what they missed all of last season. The success rate is down from 99.3% in 2014 to just over 94% this year. If the statistics remain steady, it will be the first time since 1994 that kickers haven’t connected on at least 98% of their PAT attempts. Veteran kicker Jay Feely expected the numbers to drop and not simply because of the added yardage. When I asked him why, he responded with this tweet: “Extra Points used to be in game practice. You didn’t have to worry about the result (it was a given) which allowed you to focus on your form and get grooved in during the game. Somewhat of a confidence builder. Like throwing a couple screens early for a QB. Now, the pressure is bigger for [extra points] than even [field goals] because zero room for error (100% success is demanded). The pressure intensifies and it impacts FG performance as well.” Another former NFL player expressed it this way: “Kickers can be mental.”
Fair or unfair, expectations remain sky-high for kickers despite the rule change and whatever new pressure is heaped upon their shoulders. Week 4 was tough: 18 total misses between field goals and PATs. Pittsburgh cut Josh Scobee after a pair of critical second half attempts sailed wide left against Baltimore. Scobee wasn’t supposed to be on the roster in the first place, but Shaun Suisham and Garrett Hartley got hurt in the preseason. Now the Steelers are onto Chris Boswell, a kicker who’s never actually attempted a field goal in the NFL. Rookie kicker Kyle Brindza is now unemployed, thanks to a trio of wasted opportunities for the Buccaneers. He missed his second PAT of the season as well as two field goals.
Other kickers on the hot seat last week include Philadelphia’s Caleb Sturgis who flubbed a PAT and a field goal of roughly the same distance in a game the Eagles lost by 3 to rival Washington. Sturgis took over kicking duties when the Eagles lost Pro Bowler Cody Parkey to a groin injury. The Jaguars had a chance to upset the Colts on Sunday, but Jason Myers couldn’t connect on a pair of field goals at the end of regulation (a second try was awarded after a penalty) or his attempt in overtime. At least Zach Hocker’s teammates bailed him out; the Saints won on their first possession of overtime after Hocker banged a short field try off the upright with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Going further back, the Texans replaced Randy Bullock after Week 3 and his second botched extra point. Kai Forbath didn’t even survive past the season opener when he failed to make a field goal for the Redskins.
Kickers are like offensive linemen: they don’t garner much attention until they don’t do their jobs correctly (or unless they get “liquored up” and run their mouths about star quarterbacks). Dig a little deeper and you realize more than half the kickers in the league are still perfect on extra points this year. Atlanta’s Matt Bryant leads the way, 15 for 15. It doesn’t matter where you spot the ball for New England’s Stephen Gostkowski. He’s nailed 425 straight PATs, an NFL record. All told, 20 kickers have yet to miss from the longer distance; while 10 of those are also flawless on field goals. Most of the veterans remain largely unaffected by the adjustment, but youth and inexperience can lead to waffling under pressure and high-profile blunders. Nearly a third of kickers are 25 or younger. MMQB insider Peter King points out a dozen teams are using kickers in their first seasons with those clubs.
In this age of social media vigilance and rabid fantasy consumption, mistakes are amplified and scrutinized. Kickers are no longer anonymous. But a PAT success rate of 94% is right on par with the averages for 33-yard field goals. And through the opening month of the season, only 2 kickers have blown more than 1 extra point attempt. Sliding the PAT line back 15 yards didn’t dramatically alter the face of football. Instead, the rule change has done exactly what the NFL intended. The play is a little less routine and a little more exciting, just another way to keep fans engaged. Mission accomplished.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.