Seattle Seahawks

Dave Boling: New PAT rule added thrills after all

New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski (6) reacts after missing a point-after- touchdown attempt Sunday against Denver. The miss was his first in 524 attempts.
New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski (6) reacts after missing a point-after- touchdown attempt Sunday against Denver. The miss was his first in 524 attempts. The Associated Press

At some point in his Patriots’ narrow loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, coach Bill Belichick might have muttered a foul phrase or two toward the idiot who pushed to have the almost-automatic point-after-touchdown conversion kick moved back to the 15-yard line.

What was the argument? Nobody gets any excitement out of a play that is successful 99 percent of the time.

The problem for Belichick in affixing blame is that he was the culprit, the guy who instigated the regulatory change. So, in the 20-18 defeat in Denver, he was hoist with his own petard. Or, in this case PAT-ard.

The change, which made the normal 20-yard conversion kick now equivalent to a 33-yard kick, wrought any number of statistical deviations in its first season.

Over the course of the regular season, 71 PAT kicks were missed, a number vastly increased from eight missed in 2014. Overall, the success ratio dropped about 5 percentage points from what had been higher than 99 percent.

In Seattle, for instance, highly efficient kicker Steven Hauschka missed twice as many PATs (making 40 of 44) as he did field-goal attempts (making 29 of 31). In further oddity, he was 6 for 6 from 50 yards or further, but missed four PATs of 33 yards.

But the rule mostly stimulated conversation rather than controversy, as it rarely played into the outcome of regular-season games.

That changed Sunday.

Mistakes in every facet of the game are amplified during the playoffs. Every possession and each point become so precious. And so it was when Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski pushed his first PAT slightly outside the right upright.

This would end up being a more unpredictable occurrence than his quarterback, Tom Brady, having a playoff game in which he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes along with a pair of interceptions.

Gostkowski hadn’t missed a point-after conversion kick in nine seasons. Since that miss as a rookie in 2006, he’d connected on an NFL-record 523 consecutive PAT kicks.

That ended Sunday, when he missed on a kick that seemed as if it would have been good from the shorter distance before the rules change.

Gostkowski claimed responsibility for the loss. He was being a stand-up guy, but his teammates justifiably came to his defense.

Belichick, too, pointed out the many things that went wrong in addition to the missed point-after.

Absolutely.

Belichick twice ran fourth-down plays in failed attempts while within field-goal range, costing them possible points in a close game.

And Brady’s day was made miserable by a Denver defense that hit him 20 times. With better protection the game might not have come down to the last minute.

But it did. And after Brady found Rob Gronkowski in the end zone with 12 seconds left in the game, it amounted to the Patriots’ second touchdown to go with two field goals. Those are the same scoring elements that Denver had compiled — except for the missed extra point.

Because of the missed PAT, the Patriots trailed Denver 20-18 and had to go for a two-point conversion play to try to tie. The Brady pass was intercepted.

Some have pointed out that without the rules-change and the Gostkowski miss, the game would have ended up tied 20-20 at the end of regulation, and an overtime game featuring historic quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Brady might have been one of the all-time classics.

I wonder, though, how that missed point affected Belichick’s approach throughout the game. There seems to be some psychology involved once the typical calculus of the game is disrupted.

I don’t think coaches have yet figured out how they want to approach this now that the percentages have changed.

Even if it doesn’t come into play in the upcoming Super Bowl, the fact that it was conspicuous in a conference championship game in its first year as a rule makes it an interesting discussion.

So, Belichick was right, the rule created a great deal excitement. This time, it was at his expense.

dboling@thenewstribune.com

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