When Is a Field-Goal Attempt a Chip Shot? Never!

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After Stephen Hauschka missed a 27-yard field goal with seven seconds left in overtime against the Cardinals on Oct. 23, the Seahawks had to settle for a 6-6 tie.

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It is a ubiquitous expression in football, a term borrowed from golf that has been refashioned and taken on a misguided connotation.

The phrase “chip-shot field goal” is meant to describe a short kick that should never be missed. No one knows the exact origin of the phrase in football. Nor do fans, broadcasters or coaches question its use, despite the fact that the techniques of a golf chip and a short field-goal attempt are completely different.

Kickers seem to be the only people who despise the term, perhaps because most of them play both football and golf and recognize how wrongly it is applied. But the expression has staying power. It is now in most online dictionaries as an American football reference.

Lately, football fans have heard a lot about chip-shot field goals because several N.F.L. games have been won, lost or tied by botched short field-goal attempts. In one recent game, the kickers for Arizona and Seattle both bungled overtime field-goal attempts inside 30 yards, an astounding double flub that led to the N.F.L.’s first tie in two years.

“It was a chip shot,” a head coach will usually say minutes after these failed kicks, shrugging his shoulders.

“Chip shot?” Cleveland Browns kicker Cody Parkey said. “It’s not a good name for it. You don’t go get a different club and try to get under the ball.”

Jay Feely, who kicked for six teams in a 14-year N.F.L. career and is now a CBS football analyst, likewise bristled at the term.

“People think the kicker is trying to get the football up quicker or that the leg motion is like an easy half swing used in chipping a golf ball, which is just completely false — 100 percent untrue,” he said. “In fact, the kicker’s leg swing at the ball is exactly the same for every kick. I kicked a 20-yard field goal the exact same way I would kick a 50-yard field goal. It’s the wrong term.”

Every kicker interviewed about short attempts, especially those inside 30 yards, said any miss at that range would be unacceptable. On average in the last two years, N.F.L. kickers have converted about 98 percent of those field-goal tries.

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Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro reacted to hitting the left upright on a 24-yard field-goal attempt against the Seahawks.

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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

There is more room for error on shorter kicks because the ball has to stay on its intended course for a lesser distance. That makes it easier, if not technically different.

“If you try to alter your leg swing,” Giants kicker Robbie Gould said, “you get in real trouble.”

Jets kicker Nick Folk agreed: “You can’t change your mechanics. You want the same leg swing. There are no chip shots.”

Folk, who plays golf, mimicked the abbreviated swing of a golf chip shot.

“That’s not what you’re doing out there,” he said.

A golfer can stand over a chip shot for several minutes and hit it whenever he is ready. On a field-goal try, 11 defenders charge toward the kicker, who has less than two seconds to get the football airborne.

And then there’s a false assumption that a golf chip shot is automatically performed successfully in the first place — especially when it is made by everyday fans.

According to Mark Broadie, a Columbia University business school professor and golf analytics expert, the average recreational golfer muffs chip shots of 60 yards or shorter 12 percent of the time — six times the failure rate of short field-goal attempts.

And the bar he set for a success was pretty low. Broadie defined failure as an array of dastardly outcomes: a complete whiff at the ball, a shot that skirts past the green, a shot that barely advances toward the hole.

Professional golfers usually avoid these ruinous missteps — with some notable exceptions.

“Look what happened to Tiger when he came back — he had the chipping yips,” Folk said, referring to Tiger Woods’s disastrous short game in 2015, particularly at the Phoenix Open. “He hit the ball three times before it hit the green, and he’s one of the best ever.”

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Theories about the cause of the recent, atypical spate of missed short field goals have centered on the 2015 rule change that moved an extra point try to 33 yards from the goal posts instead of 20 yards, which had been the distance for decades.

Feely said the old extra point could be counted on to bolster a kicker’s self-assurance because it was converted with such regularity; some kickers would go nearly a decade without a failed attempt. The new distance is having the opposite effect: more misses and less confidence.

“Pressure is cumulative,” said Feely, whose 332 field goals rank him 21st on the N.F.L. career list. “When you didn’t have to worry about extra points, you might miss five kicks total in a year. Now you’ve got guys missing three, four or five extra points per year plus five or six field goals. All that pressure builds and has an impact.”

Parkey noted that each kicker, in effect, is now trying about 50 more 33-yard field goals per season, even though the play is called an extra-point attempt. The distinction is significant, at least psychologically.

Fans and coaches have long accepted the risks of a field goal, even from 33 yards, said Matt Stover, whose 19-year N.F.L. kicking career ended in 2009. But they took that point-after kick for granted for so long that they assume a touchdown will always be worth 7 points, not 6. A miss can throw off a team’s offensive strategies for the rest of the game.

“For that reason,” Stover said, “an extra point is always expected, regardless of the length.”

Stover once made 422 consecutive extra points, albeit at the old distance. Still, that’s a lot of perfect — ahem — chip shots. Not that he would use that term.

“Look, did I go out there with my golf wedge? No, I didn’t,” Stover said. “It actually would be more like a 7-iron. And yes, I did my best to hit every kick the same every time. It just doesn’t always work out.”

Feely suggested that for all these years, people have been using the wrong analogy.

“They should say a short field goal is like a 3-foot putt,” he said. “That might make more sense.”

Except, according to Broadie, the average recreational golfer makes a 3-foot putt only 78 percent of the time.

Added Stover, “And if it’s a field goal late in the game, it should be called a 3-foot putt for $100.”

Now that is no chip-shot field goal.

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