For as long as most of us can remember, kicking an extra point after a touchdown has meant "OK guys, beer break!". In the 2014 NFL season, kickers made 99.3 percent of their extra-point kicks, so the NFL decided to move the distance for point-after kicks to the 15-yard line for the 2015 season. Suspense!
Ok, so it didn’t really make a huge difference (AFC Championship Game aside) – teams still made 94.2% of their extra point kicks last season – but so far this preseason, the Patriots have done a cannonball into the waters of going for two after a touchdown.
For a two-point attempt, the ball gets placed at the 2-yard line. So far this preseason – and this will be something to keep an eye on in Week 3 and 4 – New England has scored six total touchdowns, and has gone for two points instead of kicking the extra point on four of them.
And, in one of those cases where the Patriots decided not to go double-or-nothing on the goal line, there was a very strategic reason for kicking the extra point instead.
Check out the four chances the Pats had to go for two in the first preseason game of the year against the New Orleans Saints (the plays are abbreviated, but it was just last week, you should remember them). The two-point attempts and results are underlined.
Week 1 (vs Saints)
1st quarter – Jamie Collins pick-six, 2-point attempt w/ James White succeeded
2nd quarter – LeGarrette Blount 1-yard touchdown, 2-point attempt failed
3rd quarter – Tyler Gaffney touchdown, Gostkowski extra point
4th quarter – Trey Flowers sack fumble TD, Gostkowski extra point (put Pats up 9)
Out of four touchdowns in that game, New England went for two on two of them. But check out the note next to Trey Flowers’ Sportscenter Top 10 strip-sack-fumble recovery touchdown in the fourth quarter. Kicking the extra point there, which is still just a chip shot and basically guaranteed, meant that New England took a 9-point lead. If they had gone for two and missed, they would only have an eight-point lead – which, hypothetically, the Saints could have erased in one possession if they scored a touchdown and converted a 2-point attempt of their own. Instead, Belichick and friends took the easy points, knowing that it would put the Saints two possessions behind late in the game.
Hey, it’s preseason, but that doesn’t mean you don’t play to win.
Moving on to last night’s game…
Week 2 (vs Bears)
2nd quarter – LeGarrette Blount 1-yard touchdown, 2-point rush attempt failed
2nd quarter – A.J. Derby touchdown, Chris Hogan 2-point conversion succeeded
Well, well, well, now we’re cooking. New England scores two touchdowns in a 23-22 victory over Chicago, and facing an 11-0 ballgame in the 2nd quarter, the Pats went for two points on both of their touchdowns.
That’s a total of six chances to go for two points so far this preseason – and the Patriots have gone for it on four of those, with one of the remaining two chances being a situation where New England obviously had more to gain by playing it safe and kicking an extra point than they did by being cocky and going for two.
If this was almost any other coach, it’d be easy to chalk this up to trying stuff just for the sake of trying it.
It’s Belichick and McDaniels, though, and you just know Ernie Adams has crunched every number there is to crunch. There just might be something going on here that’s worth following into the regular season.
Consider that the Patriots, ever since 2010, have had some of the best fourth-down conversion percentages in the NFL. Any stat dork worth his salt will tell you that going for it on fourth-and-short is, probability-wise, the right call – but it’s still relatively rare.
Unless you’re Bill Belichick, who, for being well-known for a couple fourth down calls that will forever live in infamy, is actually one of the most aggressive – and successful, percentage-wise – fourth-down coaches on the planet.
Just saying, keep an eye on New England going for two this season. It may turn out to be nothing – or it may mean that the normal point-after attempt isn’t the best time to grab another beer anymore for Patriots fans.