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NFL football kicker
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth
No longer a sure thing.
THE KICKER

How NFL rule changes this season are changing football strategy

By Mike Murphy

There are few things more routine in American football than scoring the extra-point kick after a touchdown. At 20 yards out from the goal posts, the kick has long been a given for teams—only eight were missed in the entire 2014 season—and the National Football League wants to reintroduce some drama. The league made a few changes to the rules this season to make the extra point a little less routine, and after just three weeks, it’s already having an impact.

Under the new rules which the NFL is trying out this season, extra-point kicks are now taken 33 yards from the goal posts (which is 15 yards out from the goal line.) That additional distance has already caused kickers across the league to miss 13 attempts. Since 2000, the kicker success rate for extra points has been either 99% or 98% every season, the New York Times reported, and this season it’s currently 95%.

“This is exactly what the league was hoping for—to change a ceremonial play into a competitive play,” John Mara, the co-owner of the New York Giants, told the Times.

While the extra-point success rate is down, it hasn’t cost any teams a game yet. It has, however, caused teams to attempt far more two-point conversions than in previous seasons. (In the NFL, after scoring a touchdown, teams can elect to kick for a single extra point, or try for two points by running or passing the ball over the goal line.) For a two-point conversion attempt, the football is still placed two yards from the goal line. Through three weeks, teams have attempted 25 two-point conversions, which is half as many as were attempted in the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have embraced the new rule, going 3-for-3 on two-point conversion attempts so far, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said the team is going to keep doing it all season. For a team that’s successful, the two-pointer pays dividends, as it puts the onus on the other team to respond similarly. ”If you’re up 8-0 and they go score, they have a decision to make,” Roethlisberger told ESPN, speaking about his opponents. “We feel like we’re a team that’s going to do it enough that it’s going to be hard to get a beat on us.”

The NFL also added additional risk to the two-point conversion: If the defending team intercepts the ball or recovers a fumble, it can now run the ball back and score two points itself. Defending teams can also return a blocked extra-point kick for two as well. There’s no accepted name for this scoring play—which has yet to happen this season—although on the first episode of Bill Simmons’ new podcast, it was suggested it could be called the “failed attempt returned for two” or FART for short.

The Jets’ offensive coordinator apparently worked up a whole range of new two-point conversion plays for this season, and now the team has two coaches up in the press box during games to analyze whether it’s worth going for one or two points after a touchdown. Who knows—in the future, if teams get better at going for two after touchdowns, we could actually see an increase in the number of points scored in the NFL. For now, at least, kicking has become a little less routine.