How the NFL's PAT rule changed the game (or didn't)

Year 1 of the NFL's Great PAT Experiment has concluded, at least for the regular season, and the results are in. Its impact, as always, depended on your perspective.

If the goal was to redirect the fans' traditional bathroom break after touchdowns, then it succeeded. NFL place-kickers missed 71 extra points from the new 33-yard distance, dropping their conversion rate from 99.3 last season to a still-reliable -- but not automatic -- 94.2 percent. The last time it was lower was in 1982, when place-kickers converted 93.8 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

If the hope was to upend post-touchdown strategy and change the outcome of games, then it fell short. Two-point conversion attempts rose about 35 percent over last season, but the total of 94 was hardly unprecedented in the play's 23-year history. Only a handful of end games were impacted by missed extra points, and none of them directly determined the winner.

While we have a moment here on Monday morning, let's dig into the details, as the NFL is sure to do in the coming weeks and months. The original rule change limited its scope to one year, but it's reasonable to expect its renewal -- possibly with tweaks -- for 2016. We've almost certainly seen the last of the 19-yard extra point.

Misses were concentrated

A total of 27 teams missed at least one extra point, leaving only five teams perfect. But six teams accounted for 42 percent of all misses by failing on at least four attempts.

The Jacksonville Jaguars' Jason Myers missed an NFL-high seven of 39 attempts, while the Buffalo Bills' Dan Carpenter missed six and the Arizona Cardinals' Chandler Catanzaro missed five.

The San Diego Chargers' Josh Lambo missed four, as did the Houston Texans duo of Nick Novak and Randy Bullock, the Minnesota Vikings' Blair Walsh and the Seattle Seahawks' Steven Hauschka.

The five perfect teams boasted five of the league's best place-kickers. That list includes the New England Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski, who converted each of his 52 attempts. Other teams to go without a miss: the Baltimore Ravens (Justin Tucker), the Green Bay Packers (Mason Crosby), the Dallas Cowboys (Dan Bailey) and the Atlanta Falcons (Matt Bryant/Shayne Graham).

Field goal percentage was unaffected

Any concern that a decrease in extra-point efficiency would bleed into field goal accuracy proved unfounded. Week 4, which featured 14 missed field goals, proved an anomaly. The leaguewide field goal conversion rate was 84.5 percent, slightly higher than 2014's 84.0.

In fact, five place-kickers missed more extra points than field goals: Myers, Hauschka, Catanzaro, the Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri and the Detroit Lions' Matt Prater. How did Myers keep his job? He missed only one field goal after Oct. 4 and finished the season with 13 consecutive field goal conversions.

Two-point attempts were undeniably up

Coaches I spoke with during the offseason and in training camp all downplayed the possibility of a surge in two-point attempts. Most of them were right, but one of them -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin -- was playing possum.

Emboldened by his high-octane offense that finished the season fifth in the league in scoring, Tomlin called for 11 two-point attempts -- nearly double that of the next-highest team. The Steelers converted eight of them, including the first in the first quarter of a game in 17 years.

Tomlin's aggressiveness helped pull the NFL's two-point totals to 94 attempts, well above the 59 we saw last season and the league's most since 1998. But teams attempted more two-point plays not only in 1998 (105) but also in 1994 (116), 1997 (109) and 1995 (104), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

This season, the trend was top-heavy. Five teams didn't attempt a single two-point play, a list that included four of the league's most aggressive and/or unconventional coaches: The New England Patriots' Bill Belichick, the Arizona Cardinals' Bruce Arians, the Carolina Panthers' Ron Rivera and the Philadelphia Eagles' Chip Kelly.

Overall, 13 teams tried two or fewer. And more than two-thirds of the total attempts (64 of 94) came in the fourth quarter as dictated by score margins and/or a desire to make even for previous extra-point misses.

Late-season weather had small impact

There was a sense that deteriorating weather conditions would push down extra point percentages and elevate two-point attempts in the second half of the season. It happened, but only to a small degree.

In the first nine weeks of the season, over a span of 132 games, place-kickers hit 95.1 percent of their extra points while teams attempted 55 two-point plays. Over the final eight weeks and 124 games, the extra-point rate was 93.1 percent. Teams tried 39 two-point plays.

Blame El Nino.

Returns and outcomes

It's a subjective measure, but from this vantage point, the closest the NFL got to a game being decided by the new rule came in Week 13, when Myers missed two extra points and the Jaguars failed on a makeup two-point conversion in a 42-39 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

That week also brought the only incarnation of a hoped-for consequence: The New Orleans Saints returned a blocked extra point for a two-point conversion. (Before this season, blocked extra points were ruled dead.)


The modest impact was for the best. Anything more would have upended the sensitive sensibilities of fans, coaches and players alike and possibly generated momentum for returning to the old approach.

I'd like to see more incentive to use two-point plays, possibly by giving teams the option to take the ball at the 1-yard line. And it still seems inorganic to have rules that support a 33-yard kick for one point and as little as an 18-yard kick for three points.

But that's all in good time. Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.