NFL not shy about changing rules on PATs or anything else

Miami Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis (9) has his first quarter field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on December 14, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

I’m fine with the longer conversion kick, the latest evolution in the NFL’s mission to make us watch every single play in every single game rather than wandering off to the fridge or the can. Anything that adds drama, in this case putting coaches on instinct mode from the first quarter until the last, is a good thing.

Let me say just one thing, though, before moving on to a list of some of the potential consequences here. Never again do I want to hear that college football’s overtime rules are too quirky or contrived to be believed. Why, there’s even a copy of college rules in the new package, with NFL players allowed to score two points by returning a fumble or an interception for a score on an unsuccessful conversion try.

The NFL makes arbitrary changes to its basic rules without worrying about what the ancient legends of the leather-helmet era would have said or thought about it. Why, I’ll bet some of you out there never even knew the goalposts used to be planted right in the middle of the end zone rather than on the back line.

Sometimes the league calls some new rule an experiment to be reviewed after the season, though that’s not how this one is being sold. Doesn’t matter. When you alter the fundamentals of something as vital to the game as scoring, like this new extra-point snap from the 15-yard line does, all the old stats and records are thrown out of whack.

Baseball does a significant makeover in the order of business, seemingly, once in a lifetime. The NFL could do it every 15 minutes and the addiction of fans to the entire entertainment package would not be lessened in the slightest.

They really do seem to know what they’re doing, even when they’re just taking shots in the dark with potential improvements. So we’ll try the new PAT rules for a season. Then we’ll tweak them. Or we’ll discard them. No problem. The only rule you really need to know about the NFL is that the NFL rules.

Miami Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis (9) has his first quarter field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on December 14, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Miami Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis (9) has his first quarter field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on December 14, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Now, here are a few instant reactions to moving the one-point PAT kick to the 15-yard line and thus making coaches think harder about trying for two points from the 2-yard line.

  1. The new kick comes from around the 33-yard line, which is anything but automatic. Miami’s Caleb Sturgis, for instance, is 17-for-20 from the range of 30-39 yards in his NFL career. Meanwhile, he’s perfect on 74 PAT kicks. Could be that mid-range accuracy begins to have greater impact on which kickers make the roster rather than the emphasis on long-range punch.
  2. Teams in bad-weather cities may worry more about developing a two-point unit than those in domes or sunnier climates. All teams will spend more time on this facet than they previously did, just in case the one-point kick gets scary for some reason.
  3. Tim Tebow may finally have gotten his foot in the door in Philadelphia. He’s a bull of a short-yardage runner and, before anyone snorts or laughs, remember how he completed a crazy Denver fourth-quarter comeback in 2011 by plowing across for a two-point conversion. If ever there was a reason for carrying a third quarterback on the game-day roster, this is it.

4. Two-point conversions are rare enough as it is but they sure played a big part in a Dolphins game just last year. Miami led Denver 28-17 after three quarters until Peyton Manning completed a touchdown pass plus a two-point conversion pass to make it a three-point game. Later, after the Dolphins had fallen into a desperate hole, Daniel Thomas ran it in for two-point conversion to pull Miami within 39-36. The onside kick didn’t work out for Miami but heart rates never dropped below 120 all afternoon.

5. Feeling queasier about Joe Philbin’s decision-making, though. With the potential for more gambles by rival coaches, he may feel the need to stockpile timeouts just in case he needs to “Kodak” a two-point formation.