Late in Sunday’s game against the Patriots, the Dallas Cowboys found themselves in unfamiliar territory: near the New England end zone. It had been a slugfest played in weather befitting seafaring disaster poems, and the Cowboys were down 13–6. Facing fourth-and-7 at the Patriots’ 11-yard line, Dallas head coach Jason Garrett had a choice: Go for it with a chance to tie the game, or attempt a field goal that would cut the deficit to 4. With only six minutes remaining, there was no guarantee that the Cowboys would get the ball back, and they’d need to score a touchdown anyway if they did. Surely the time was nigh? Cometh the hour, cometh the man!
Garrett kicked the field goal and the Cowboys lost, 13–9.
Field goals continue to be a bizarre addiction for NFL coaches. Teams often elect to punt or “take the points” on fourth down when analytics favor aggressiveness. By some calculations, Garrett’s decision on Sunday actually increased New England’s chances of victory.
While Garrett took a lot of grief for his conservative play-calling, even the league’s young and “forward-thinking” coaches fall into the same trap. The Arizona Cardinals may have hired Kliff Kingsbury to be their new-age offensive guru, but the man loves himself a field goal attempt in the red zone while trailing. Likewise, Rams wunderkind Sean McVay sends out the special teams unit on fourth-and-short more than any other coach in the league.
Clearly the prospect of seeing 3 points flash on the scoreboard is too tempting to resist. It’s time to save coaches from themselves: The NFL should make field goals worth 2 points.
Because a field goal is worth half as much as a touchdown, coaches find themselves trapped inside Zeno’s paradoxes whenever their team is trailing. Scoring in incremental nibbles makes it feel like they’re catching up, when in fact they’re just giving the other team more opportunities to widen the gulf. Here’s how Garrett explained his decision to kick against New England: “Just to give us a chance coming back the other way, fourth-and-7, you know, make it a four-point game. They go ahead and kick a field goal coming back, you still have a chance to be in the game.” Kick a field goal and the carrot is forever within reach.
To the eyes of football men, the number 2 looks abnormal and measly. They’ve lived their entire lives in chunks of 7s and 3s, so a 2-point field goal would be the shock to the system we need to kill off their bad habits. (Among the worst of those habits: kicking a field goal on fourth-and-short when leading by a field goal.) Games would be a great deal more entertaining because teams would go for it more frequently. On second thought, teams should be doing this already, so the 2-point field goal would make games precisely as entertaining as they already should be.
Sure, there would be some changes we’d all need to get used to. The most common scoreline in NFL history is 20–17, and that spread would become nearly nonexistent. (Games that follow that arithmetic would instead end 18–16, a score that’s been tallied in only eight games in NFL history.) Gambling lines would require some realignment, but it’s not like the betting public has anything to lose. And consider the fate of Scott Norwood, as Super Bowl XXV would have been tied 18–18 when he went wide right of the uprights, not 20–19. He could have rectified his mistake in overtime … or compounded it with another missed field goal. Either way, Scott Norwood would have had one more chance not to become Scott Norwood.
We’ve now reached the part of the article where I’d usually try to knock holes in my own argument and then debunk them to demonstrate my intellectual honesty. The problem is that I can’t find any problems with this argument. Instead, I’ll use this space to address the concerns of any professional kickers reading this.
Hello, kickers! Let me assure you that this proposal is in no way an attempt to make you extinct or even reduce your importance. There will still be opportunities for you to tie or win games; it’s just that the score will have to be slightly narrower to do so. Converting field goals is remarkably difficult and nerve-racking, and devaluing their worth only increases the importance—and frequency—of extra point attempts. Kickers, your jobs are safe.
Speaking of kickers, one of the all-time greats has proposed a scoring tweak of his own. In 2014, Adam Vinatieri suggested that kicks longer than 50 yards should be worth 4 points, citing the fact that kickers were becoming “too good.” As someone who plays (at least) half of his games in a dome, the Colts’ Vinatieri would stand to benefit tremendously from this adjustment. And, as the all-time NFL leader in points, he’d add a comfortable cushion to his lead. Nice try, pal.
Handing certain kickers an advantage would go against the NFL’s attempts to foster true parity. The league claims to strive for this ideal, and commissioner Roger Goodell told the Wall Street Journal that making the game competitive was his “core responsibility.” That quote came during collective bargaining agreement negotiations in 2011, but the key to keeping things fair lies not in salary caps. If coaches like Jason Garrett continue to make bad toe-related decisions (against a Bill Belichick–led squad, no less), then some teams will forever be at a disadvantage. The Garretts of the world will never be able to quit 3-pointers cold turkey. But at 2 points a pop, they’ll at last look at field goals with the appropriate level of disdain.