Kicking is front and center in the NFL these days. It’s not quite to #collegekickers level concern right now, but the NFL an interesting swath of missed kicks the past few weeks has us wondering what’s going on. Certainly the late misses in Sunday night’s Seattle Seahawks-Arizona Cardinals game raised a few eyebrows. So was that a one-in-a-million pair of fluky misses? Or a sign that kicking is leveling off, or perhaps even falling off, in the NFL?
Timing appears to be the biggest thing. If Cincinnati Bengals kicker Mike Nugent boffs two FG tries, as he did in Sunday’s two-touchdown win over the Cleveland Browns, it barely make a ripple. For good reason. But if two kickers trade chip-shot misses in overtime of a nationally televised game that had the unrelenting stamina of a C-SPAN healthcare summit, well, then people take notice, yeah?
Let’s look at a few broad-stroke numbers across the league first. It might not be quite as bad as it seems.
Only nine of the 24 kickers who attempted field goals on Sunday missed kicks, and of those nine who missed at least one attempt, only three saw their teams lose. But kicking mishaps are happening in strange ways and are having a chaotic effect on some games.
We start, of course, with the Seahawks-Cardinals thriller/snoozer, which played out more like an 1890s boxing match than an NFL game. Both Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro and Seahawks kicker Steven Hauscka, missed chances — very easy chances — to win the game in overtime, and Catanzaro had a 38-yarder blocked in the second quarter. Those teams’ kicking failures resulted in an unsatisfying tie that felt like a loss for each.
But there were other misses of consequence on Sunday:
• Matt Bryant hit the upright on a 58-yard try that would have given the Atlanta Falcons a win as time expired in regulation. They went on to lose in overtime.
• Chris Boswell missed two attempts, from 42 and 54 yards, both wide right. (He made three kicks, including ones from 44 and 46.) The Pittsburgh Steelers also had a touchdown called back and lost to the New England Patriots, 27-16, in a game of missed opportunities.
• Dustin Hopkins missed a 45-yard try in the Washington Redskins’ 20-17 loss to the Detroit Lions.
And then on top of those, there were a few more brain-scratching misses in Week 7:
• Mason Crosby missed both a field-goal and an extra-point attempt in the Green Bay Packers’ win over the Chicago Bears on Thursday. Worth noting: Crosby was a perfect 10-of-10 (field goals) and 12-of-12 (extra points) coming into the game.
• Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the highest-paid kicker in the NFL, missed another extra point — the second game in a row he has done so. He also missed a field-goal try in the Patriots’ 16-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 4 that could have prevented the first home shutout since the mid-1990s.
• Roberto Aguayo’s struggles continue — with another miss Sunday, he’s now 6-for-11 on field-goal attempts this season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ decision to trade up into Round 2 to draft him has yet to pay off, even with a game-winning kick against the Carolina Panthers. That came after two earlier misses in that game.
What to make of all this? It’s hard to tell, but it feels a bit random overall. This just could be some fluky flurry of untimely misses. After all, three teams’ kickers have yet to miss a try this season — led by the venerable Adam Vinatieri, who on Sunday set the all-time mark at 43 straight makes. But those three teams, a spotless 46-of-46 between then this season, are rather middling at a combined 9-12 record.
There are only five teams making fewer than 75 percent of their field-goal tries this season and 17 of the 32 teams are converting at higher than the 2015 season percentage of 84.5. On the flip side, only three teams made 80 percent or less last season, so it does appear that through the warm-weather portion of the season there are more teams dealing with kicker worries than in 2015. Yes, this season’s field-goal percentage is only slightly lower at 83.7, but the extra-point conversion rate is actually up full point — from 94.2 to 95.2.
But overall we don’t see a really concerning, #collegekickers-esque scourge on our hands here. Not yet, anyway. The bar has been set so high in this golden era of kicking that a few ticks down have been a bit eye-opening. Cause for concern? A reason to change in-game strategy on fourth downs? Certainly not for every team, but perhaps for a few.
The interesting part of that, though, is that the short list includes a few likely playoff-bound teams — we’re looking at you, Minnesota Vikings, Seahawks and maybe even Patriots, if the normally reliable Gostkowski doesn’t straighten things out — might have a few white-knuckle moments ahead of them when the kicks really matter most.
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