Dan Carpenter ranked near the bottom of the league this season in both field-goal and extra-point percentages, but the Bills’ veteran kicker didn’t feel like he was doing a bad job.
The way Carpenter explains it, kicking field goals seems a bit like being a hitter in baseball. A hitter can do everything right and square the ball up perfectly, but it doesn’t mean much if he hits it right at a fielder.
Similarly, Carpenter says all a kicker can do is strike the ball well and hope it follows the path he expects it to take through the uprights.
“I don’t really feel like I hit the ball poorly at all this year,” Carpenter said during locker cleanout. “I feel like I struck the ball better this year probably than I have in the last two years, for sure. So it’s just things like (hitting the uprights), it’s frustrating. You’re talking inches when you’re 48 yards away or whatever.”
Well-hit balls that go in and miss-hit balls that go wide at least feel fair. Well-hit balls that miss are the ones that drive kickers crazy, and Carpenter had a frustrating year.
“Usually if you hit a good ball, they go in,” he said. “Those are the frustrating ones, when you feel like you do hit a good ball and you don’t get the end result.
“There’s no gray area in kicking field goals. The ball either goes in or it doesn’t," he added. "It doesn’t matter if it’s pretty, ugly, goes sideways, bounces off the post and goes in. Nobody really cares. It’s either good or bad, so when you hit a good ball and it doesn’t end up going in, those are the ones that are frustrating because there’s nothing really else you could do.”
Still, sports are results-based businesses, and teams often have little patience for kickers who can’t make kicks.
Carpenter made 76.0 percent of field goals this season (19 of 25), which ranked 30th among 33 qualifying kickers. He was perfect from inside of 40 yards, but 4 of 9 from 40-49 yards and 1 of 2 from 50-plus.
On extra points, Carpenter continued to struggle with the longer distance. League-wide success rate dropped from above 99 percent to about 94 percent since the kicks moved from 20-yarders to 33-yarders in 2015, but Carpenter made only 85.0 percent of extra points last season and 88.9 percent this season, which ranked 25th out of 28 qualifying kickers.
“I would say, if I had to guess, it’s people putting more pressure on themselves,” Carpenter said of why the success rate has dropped. “It’s like, you go out for a field goal and you’re expected to make it, but it’s not like a guarantee to where an extra point is supposed to be a guaranteed one point. Before you never even thought twice about it. You know, a touchdown is seven points. So now, in a kicker’s mind, that’s what it’s supposed to be.
“So I don’t know if that adds on more pressure to yourself to make every one and that’s causing more misses. There’s a lot that goes into it. Weather gets bad, people get tired, they get blocked more, you can get two points for running it back now so teams are rushing more, there’s so much more that goes into it than to say it’s a 33-yard extra point and this is what the percentage for 33-yarders has been over the years and that’s what it should be.”
Carpenter has one year left on a contract that would pay him more than $2 million next season. If the Bills cut him in the offseason, only about half a million dollars would be charged to the salary cap.
“I have one year left on my contract and I’ll be preparing like I’m coming back here unless they tell me I’m not,” Carpenter said. “… There will be lots of question marks going on here, everybody from me all the way up. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens.”