As NFL kickers continue to struggle with the new, longer extra points, going for two-point conversions in uncustomary positions has become trendy. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for instance, went for two after all four of their touchdowns in a game against Dallas earlier this month.
But going for two in a situation when two points could get you within (or ahead by) a football-friendly number (such as 3, 7 or 8) has been more of a standard practice.
The Buffalo Bills were in those situations twice during Sunday’s 28-21 win against the Jaguars. They chose to kick the extra point the first time but went for two on the second. Rex Ryan said Monday that the time left in the game impacted those decisions, as did "the chart."
A quick recap: With three minutes left in the third quarter, Tyrod Taylor scrambled for a 7-yard touchdown that put the Bills ahead, 19-14. With a five-point lead, the Bills could’ve gone for the two-point conversion to extend their lead to a standard touchdown, but instead kicked the extra point to make it a six-point game.
After Jacksonville had regained the lead with a touchdown and an extra point, 21-20, the same situation arose after Justin Hunter scored with about 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
This time the Bills went for two, and LeSean McCoy barged his way over the goal line to give the Bills a seven-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Generally, it’s too early, I think – at that time, you just take the points,” Ryan said of Taylor’s touchdown with 18 minutes to play. “Because what you don’t want to do is start chasing points.”
Then he referenced “the chart” – one of the many field guides football coaches trust for insight on situations such as going for fourth downs, using timeouts or going for two.
“By the way, the chart will tell you, the so-called chart – by the way, I have no idea who came up with it – but that will tell you that you kick the extra point then,” Ryan said. “And then in the fourth quarter, generally you play it, a little bit, you know, where it goes. But clearly, at the time we went for it, in the fourth quarter, that was the appropriate time to go for two.”
Ryan said he doesn’t have “the chart” with him on the sideline, but a coach up in the booth does.
“We have it up top,” Ryan said, “where somebody’s got it like, 'Well, Don Shula says to go for two. You know, Don’s a heck of a lot smarter than you, so go for two.’ So that’s kind of what I lean on.”
Ryan was then asked for his thoughts on going for two in other, more aggressive, nonessential situations.
“Well yeah, it’s aggressive, but sometimes you gotta do [it] – we’re really good in the red zone, I get it," he said. "But sometimes your personnel will dictate that, sometimes who you’re playing. But I still think, even though the numbers are what they are, I feel pretty good about kicking an extra point, even though we missed.”
That would be in reference to Dan Carpenter’s missed extra point after LeSean McCoy’s first-quarter touchdown, his third miss in 30 attempts this season.
If the Bills wanted to go for two more often, the numbers might be in their favor. Carpenter’s 87.1 percent extra point success rate since the NFL changed the distance two years ago gives them .871 expected points on an extra point attempt. The league average on two-point conversions the last two years is 50.9 percent (85 for 167), per Pro Football Reference data, good for 1.018 expected points. The Bills themselves are 4 for 4 on two-point tries this season.
Still, Ryan mentioned he would hate to be chasing points, and given most NFL coaches’ propensity for loss aversion, going for two seems unlikely to happen more often unless there was a dramatic shift somewhere else in the equation, such as more missed kicks.
League-wide, when the ball was moved from the 2-yard line to the 15 on extra point attempts last season (making kicks 32- or 33-yarders instead of 18- or 19-yard tries), the success rate dropped from 99.3 percent to 94.2 percent. NFL kickers are converting at an even lower rate this season, 93.7 percent – the lowest success rate on extra points since 1979.
So this may at least be something worth monitoring. The Bills’ four two-point attempts this season were a Taylor pass to Reggie Bush in Miami; an EJ Manuel pass to Nick O’Leary against the Patriots; a Taylor run in Seattle; and McCoy’s run Sunday against the Jaguars.