Direct Snap: NFL should eliminate PAT kicks
6 hours ago
While NFL fans continue one of their favorite pastimes – the second-guessing of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick – a broader question needs to be considered following the injury to star tight end Rob Gronkowski. Instead of debating whether star players should play on special teams, the deeper issue: At a time when the NFL is so concerned about player safety, why does the league continue to have conversion kicks?
Gronkowski is expected to miss is 4-6 weeks after breaking his forearm while blocking on an extra point attempt with 3:55 left in the fourth quarter of Sunday's blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Rob Gronkowski scored a pair of TDs before getting hurt in last Sunday. (AP)
Since the start of the 2009 season, all but 22 of 3,186 extra points have been converted, according to Elias Sports Bureau. That's 99.3 percent. Furthermore, of the 22 conversion kicks that have been missed, only three (all of them in the 2010 season) had any impact on the final outcome of the game. That's three out of 672 games. Of those three games, none of the outcomes had any impact on the playoff race. And before you start to mention the impact on draft positioning, let's get serious: The last thing the NFL should be concerned with is the impact of PAT kicks on draft positioning.
To put this in another perspective, the NFL is continuing to use a play that puts players (stars or otherwise) at risk for the incredibly narrow chance that its failure might impact a game. The chance of it having an impact on the playoffs is even less (or, in this case, zero so far since the start of 2010).
Remember, this is the same league that changed the kickoff rules to restrict contact even though kickoff returns are potentially one of the most exciting plays in a game. There's a far greater chance of a kickoff return TD than there is of a missed PAT kicks (nine return TDs vs. only four missed PATs this season).
Now, this is not a call to completely eliminate the PAT kick at all levels of football. At the high school and college levels, the PAT kick is far less likely to be made and has a much bigger impact on the game. At the NFL level, it's as automatic as a politician twisting facts during a campaign.
The elimination of the conversion kick can come with stipulations at the NFL level. For instance, if a kicker gets hurt before or during a game, a team could be forced to kick the PAT. When the Detroit Lions lost kicker Jason Hanson temporarily to an injury two years ago (he was hit during a field goal attempt), defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had to kick in his place on one conversion. Suh missed, leading to one of the three aforementioned games that was impacted by a missed PAT.
This doesn't get in the way of the two-point conversion rule. The rule can simply be amended to say that a team can opt for one point automatically or choose to go for two, getting only six points for a touchdown if a two-point attempt fails.
Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, also chairman of the NFL Competition Committee, said Tuesday that the committee has considered the elimination of the PAT in the past. However, members of five teams that were surveyed Tuesday said they would prefer to keep the play. As one PR man, who was relaying the response of his team, said in an email: "They still putt 1-footers in professional golf." (Yeah about as often as NFL teams miss PAT kicks. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Who is he the Jets PR man?)
True, but there isn't a 300-pound man trying to hit the golfer as he putts. Instead, the NFL puts 22 players on the field for a superfluous play and puts coaches in a no-win situation. Belichick (he just happens to be the unlucky one right now, but every coach in the league should be concerned) are being told that they should come up with a class system for certain plays. In other words, if you're up by 20 points or more with 10 minutes left in the game, certain guys should play on point-after attempts rather than others.
Yeah, that's going to play well in the locker room. While it's fair to say that Belichick brings some of this upon himself by running up 59 points in a game, that's missing the point, no pun intended. Would the clamor of criticism against Belichick be all that much less if Gronkowski had gotten hurt on the second PAT kick of the game?
Of course not. Belichick is a skeet target for many members of the national media. But all coaches get second-guessed when an important player gets hurt on certain plays that the public deems to be useless. In Miami, Jimmy Johnson got criticized for using linebacker Zach Thomas on special teams early in Thomas' career. Never mind that Johnson was trying to reinforce the idea to his entire team that every single play was important.
That mindset was critical in the 1990s when coach Marv Levy led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Star defensive end Bruce Smith, Fred Smerlas and Darryl Talley all played on special teams. It was a point of pride. In New England, guys like Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel played on special teams as the Patriots won three titles and nearly went undefeated in 2007.
So really, the question is not whether a starter or great player should be in the game. The question is really about whether the play itself should be part of the game.