Thursday January 7th, 2016

Scott Norwood’s kick—you know the one—was anything but a chip shot. But the 47-yarder that sailed wide right, giving the Giants a victory over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, is the most famous missed field goal in pro football history anyway.

Kickers are often cruelly remembered more for their misses than their makes, particularly come playoff time. Many fans can easily rattle off the names:

Gary Anderson in the 1998 NFC Championship game against the Falcons. Mike Vanderjagt in the 2005 divisional round against the Steelers. Nate Kaeding in three-point losses in 2004, ’06 and ’09. Never mind that Vanderjagt and Kaeding are the fifth- and sixth-most accurate field goal kickers in NFL history, and that Anderson is second on the career scoring list. People remember the misses.

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The NFL playoffs are an annual microscope, magnifying the actions of everyone on the field. This goes for the quarterbacks, the referees and, yes, the kickers. And for the 12 men who will line up as placekickers this year in the playoffs, the NFL brings in an added source of pressure. The grand experiment of the season, the 33-yard extra point, makes its postseason debut.

This offseason, Peter King dubbed it, “the biggest change in the NFL scoring system in the 95-year history of the league,” and that was before we had any data. This year we saw extra point conversion percentages drop from 99.35% in 2014 to 94.17%. NFL kickers missed 71 extra points this season. With 256 games on the schedule, that means one out of every 3.6 games featured a missed extra point.

The 12 kickers on playoff rosters fared better as a group, missing 24 extra points, converting 95.3% of attempts. They still missed almost one in 20 extra points kicked this season, and last year’s 11 playoff games featured 60 touchdowns.

It seems likely somebody is going to miss an extra point this postseason. The only questions are who and when.

Kicker Team Games XPM XPA XP%
Stephen Gostkowski Patriots 16 52 52 100.0
Mason Crosby Packers 16 36 36 100.0
Mike Nugent Bengals 16 48 49 98.0
Dustin Hopkins Redskins 15 39 40 97.5
Brandon McManus Broncos 16 35 36 97.2
Chris Boswell Steelers 12 26 27 96.3
Cairo Santos Chiefs 16 39 41 95.1
Graham Gano Panthers 16 56 59 94.9
Nick Novak Texans 13 29 31 93.5
Chandler Catanzaro Cardinals 16 53 58 91.4
Steven Hauschka Seahawks 16 40 44 90.9
Blair Walsh Vikings 16 33 37 89.2
TOTAL   184 486 510 95.3

Any of the 12 names on the list above could be the next Super Bowl hero à la Adam Vinatieri or Super Bowl goat à la Norwood.

But despite the way the new extra-point rule has hung over the regular season, it’s yet to have a truly signature moment. In fact, teams that missed an extra point were 39–29 this season. That may feel counterintuitive at first blush, but it makes sense. Teams that score more touchdowns, kick more extra points and therefore have more opportunities to miss them. So teams that miss extra points are often already ahead.

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We haven’t seen a team lose by a point or two as a direct result of a missed PAT, but the great microscope arrives this weekend. And a handful of kicks in a single-elimination tournament can be an unforgiving sample size. It’s been six years since the last missed extra point in a playoff game (David Akers in the 2009 NFC championship game), and it won’t take another six.

As likely as it seems somebody will miss an extra point, it’s less certain that signature moment will rear its ugly head. If it didn’t happen in the first 256 games this year, there’s no reason to expect it’ll happen in the final 11.

But at some point a team will be tied with a chance to win. Or down a point with a chance to force overtime. Or down four, hoping to cut the lead to a field goal. Or down nine, needing to cut it to one score. Or up two, hoping to stretch the lead to three.

And then out will trot the kicker, for a 33-yard extra point.

The field goal Billy Cundiff yakked with 15 seconds left in the 2011 AFC Championship Game was from 32.

The possibility breathes new excitement and pressure into what’s already the most exciting and pressure-packed time of the year. Whether it’s this year, or sometime in the future, a new kicker’s name will be added to the roll call of goats we remember forever.  But this time it won’t be a 47-yarder. It’ll be a 33-yard kick most fans still expect to be a gimme but nevertheless failed 71 times already this year.

The only questions are who and when.​

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