The near-perfection of Steven Hauschka was exactly what the NFL didn’t like.
In the first 94 games of his career, he missed only three point-after-touchdown kicks (219 of 222). But in a two-week span this season, he failed three times, matching his career total over the previous 7 1/2 seasons.
The league wanted to render the Seahawks placekicker and his ilk more fallible and moved the PAT line of scrimmage back 13 yards, equating the 1-point boot to a 33-yard field goal.
It has worked, as the missed PAT total is up to 57 from just eight all last season and five the year before.
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Hauschka has missed more extra point kicks this season (three in 30 attempts) than he has field goals (one in 23). His percentage is better from 50 yards and further (4-4) than it is on PATs.
You’d think the kickers would be frosted, threatening a strike or something.
Free Hauschka! Kickers are people too.
“I honestly don’t have an opinion on it,” Hauschka said in the Seahawks locker room on Wednesday, voicing significantly less outrage than I expected. “It’s life as it is … new reality. If we’re still griping about it in Week 12, we’d have other issues, mentally. It’s just one of those things.”
Hauschka has become a success in the NFL by being so mentally disciplined and unruffled. An honors grad from Middlebury (Vermont) in the field of neuroscience, he seems to have extraordinary powers of focus and a very Zen-like composure.
“I’m just going with the flow and trying to make as many as I can,” Hauschka said.
It doesn’t add more stress, Hauschka said, just more work.
“The big thing is that now instead of kicking 30 field goals in a season, it feels like you’re having to kick 70 or 80. It puts a premium on focus, you’ve got to be more focused.”
One change that Hauschka and holder/punter Jon Ryan each pointed out is that defenders aren’t so apt to just go through the motions on PAT defense anymore. They’re far more intent on trying to get the block or pressure a miss.
A block, Hauschka reminded, can be a three-point swing if the defenders gain possession and return it for a two-point score.
Another factor is that PATs sometimes can surprise a placekicker.
“It’s tricky now if there’s a sudden score and you run in there and maybe you don’t get the normal warmup that you would heading into a field goal, but all of a sudden you’re kicking what seems like a field goal,” Hauschka said.
When the ball was placed on the traditional conversion stripe at the 2, it was simpler for the kicker. Now, the kickers have the option of having the ball placed on either hashmark or in the middle of the field.
Hauschka has tried all three locations this season.
“It’s kind of what you’re most comfortable with; I’ve done all three spots,” he said. “The main reason to stick with a hash mark is there’s a marking there to help alignment, whereas in the middle, there’s no mark to line up with.”
Ryan’s role as holder is critical, of course. And he’s more opinionated on the matter than Hauschka.
“I’m mixed on it now, but before the season, I was very against it,” Ryan said. “As a football fan, I thought watching a kicker going onto the field to make one of those game-winning kicks was pretty exciting. It didn’t happen that much. But games are always within three to seven points, so now kickers can decide almost every game by missing PATs. As a fan, I’d rather see the other 52 guys decide the game.”
It has infused excitement. The Saints scored the league’s first two-point return on a blocked PAT, and the Jaguars lost a game on a couple missed PATs.
The missed kicks also force teams to go for two-point conversions, sometimes a number of times.
“It snowballs. I don’t know if they realized that would happen,” Hauschka said. “It’s making some crazy games. I don’t know if it’s for the best. But I don’t make the rules.”
Nor does he complain about them.