After Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano finishes his warmups, he begins his kick progressions with a series of extra-point tries … with the ball spotted at the 15-yard line.
That’s the new normal after NFL owners voted 30-2 in May to move the PAT line of scrimmage from the 2 to the 15 in an effort to add excitement to a play that had become automatic for kickers, giving fans a built-in, beer-and-bathroom break.
Gano understands why the rule was changed, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.
“I don’t think any specialist you’ll find will be like, ‘Hey, I love them moving the kick back.’ It’s just something you have to deal with,” Gano said after Monday’s OTA practice. “It’s not like it’s a 60-yard field goal they’re trying to get us to make on the regular.”
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Gano has made 96 of 97 extra points since joining the Panthers in 2012. That 99 percent conversion rate is in line with the league average of 99.5 on extra points the past four seasons.
The lack of drama is what led New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to lobby NFL leaders to add some sizzle to the play.
Besides pushing the snap to the 15, making extra points a 33-yard try, owners kept the 2-point conversion spot at the 2 but voted to allow defenses the ability to score two points on botched PATs or 2-point attempts.
It marked the most significant scoring change in NFL history and could lead to more changes next offseason. The measure passed for only one season, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reported.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.
“To me it’s no different. You’ve got to really look at it and take all the circumstances into play,” Rivera said Monday. “It was 99 percent from the 2. And it’s like 96 from the 15. So I don’t think it’s that big a deal. I think people are making a lot more out of it.”
According to the analytics site Pro Football Focus, kickers made 97.6 percent of regular-season field-goal attempts last season from 30-35 yards from the middle of the field (as opposed to a hash mark).
But Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said recently the new rule puts teams that play in outdoor stadiums in cold-weather cities at a disadvantage, an argument Rivera says “makes sense.”
The Panthers face the New York Giants on Dec. 20 at MetLife Stadium, which might not have the swirling winds that befuddled kickers in the old Meadowlands but could present some challenges for Gano in late December.
New Panthers special teams coordinator Russ Purnell, who has 26 years of NFL experience, is not a proponent of the longer PAT.
“I’m a traditionalist. I kind of wish they had just left it alone,” Purnell said. “But I knew they were going to make a change.”
Purnell said if the NFL really wanted to add excitement to the play, it would have moved the 2-point try to the 1 to encourage coaches to go for 2 more often.
Gano believes having 6-5, 245-pound quarterback Cam Newton and bruising fullback Mike Tolbert will make the Panthers a tough team to stop on 2-point attempts. But Rivera said game situations would dictate whether he morphs into “Riverboat Ron” and keeps the offense on the field for 2-pointers.
He indicated the Panthers would put more of an emphasis on 2-point plays – both running and defending them – when they put on pads at training camp.
“We’ll see. I’m not going to talk about what I want to do,” Rivera said. “We’ve talked about it. We’ve discussed some of those situations and scenarios as coaches. It’s going to be interesting to see how it does develop. We’re most certainly going to take a look at it during the preseason games.”
Gano said the longer extra point could lead to increased injuries among linemen, who have been known occasionally to take the play off, depending on the score of the game.
Tennessee Titans kicker Ryan Succop told the Tennesseean that without the fear of a fake with teams kicking from the 15, defenders could “bring the house,” exposing linemen and tight ends to potential injuries.
Purnell isn’t sure there will be a rash of injuries with the longer try, saying the PAT still lacks the collisions that are more common on punts and kickoffs.
But Gano and Purnell agree that nothing is automatic anymore.
“I think it’s going to be interesting this year,” Gano said. “It’s going to be a little tougher for the bad-weather teams, I guess you could say. It’s still a manageable kick – 33 yards, you should be able to make that kick.”
But the percentages say not as many kickers will.
When the league experimented with the longer PAT last preseason, the conversion rate was 94.3 percent (133 of 141). Jordan Gay, who was with the Panthers last summer, is believed to the first kicker to miss the longer extra point last preseason, in the first exhibition against Buffalo.
“I read the percentages,” Purnell said. “There are going to be some missed PATs. It’s going to be important.”
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Percentage of point-after touchdown kicks converted by NFL kickers over the past four seasons.
Percentage of field goals in the middle of the field from 30-35 yards converted by NFL kickers last season. PATs this season will come from about 32-33 yards.