Something awful is happening to NFL kickers. The league moved the snap for extra points from the 2-yard line backward to the 15 and it has completely messed with the 6 inches between their chin strap buckles.
Now everything seems like a pressure kick, even the 33-yard point after attempt. It has turned veteran kickers with the calm of a Buddhist monk into yipaholics.
Week 4 in the NFL included 14 missed field goals and four missed extra points before Monday night's game. It has been four years since the league has seen 18 missed kicks in one week of play.
Perhaps even more alarming, placekickers made only 15 of 22 attempts (68.2 percent) from within 40 yards. That's about a 12 percent drop from that distance since the start of 2013.
"I did not think it would have this type of impact," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "I thought, moving (the PAT) back to the 15-yard line, it's a fairly short field goal to make. A little bit longer extra point. And now it's really being discussed. We're talking an awful lot about the kickers, putting more pressure on them each week.
"Something is happening. Of course, it's harder moving the ball back but it shouldn't be that much harder."
The Bucs know first-hand how costly the kicking gaffes can be.
On Monday, they released kicker Kyle Brindza after he missed five of his past seven field goals and two extra points in the past two weeks. The rookie from Notre Dame was 6 of 12 on field goals for the season. He got a vote of confidence from Smith after botching three field goals and an extra point on Sept. 27 in a 19-9 loss to the Texans. But Sunday, Brindza melted down again, missing from 29 and 43 yards as well as another PAT in a 37-23 loss to the Panthers.
Smith said he didn't regret giving Brindza another game to see if he could iron out his problems.
"Absolutely not. I mean, he deserved another shot," Smith said. "I don't think you move on from a player based on one performance. But when you see it becoming a trend, going a certain way, then you have to react to it. And that was the case. Kyle has a strong leg. But in our league, you know, points are valuable.
"We just can't afford to be in that position anymore. We saw something we didn't like two weeks ago. Yesterday's game told us the direction we need to go."
The Bucs will likely replace Brindza with one of the five kickers working out for them today: Connor Barth, Billy Cundiff, Randy Bullock, Kai Forbath and former USF kicker Marvin Kloss.
More on them in a second, but first, what's making the uprights look so narrow to placekickers?
The prevailing theory is the kickers used the short PAT snapped from the 2, making it a 20-yard chip shot, as a warmup swing. It was a chance to groove your stroke without much pressure or chance of actually missing the kick from that distance.
"Absolutely, I think it's playing a huge role," former Bucs and Cowboys kicker Martin Gramatica said. "I did the same thing, when I didn't feel right or didn't have a good warmup, you hope to get a couple touchdowns so you could have the old PAT and get in rhythm. Then you go in there and relax.
"It's like in golf, it's hitting a shorter putt and build your confidence. But now, this has to feel like huge pressure kick every time."
What's more, Gramatica said, the rush to block the kick is more intense because under the new rules, a defense can score two points on a PAT off a block or a botched snap if they reach the end zone with the turnover.
"As a kicker, I hate the rule and I know what these guys go through," Gramatica said.
Barth, who kicked for the Bucs from 2009-12, would seem to be the logical choice. He's a career 85 percent kicker and made 15 of 16 last year for the Broncos. Inside the 40-yard line, he has been good 94 percent of the time and has made 13 field goal of 50 yards or longer.
Forbath, who kicked for the Redskins at an 87 percent success rate, has only two of 50 yards or more and was released for his weak kickoffs. Bullock was just released by the Texans and Cundiff is the oldest at 35.
Smith said he's willing to sacrifice distance and ability to kick off through the end zone for accuracy.
"As we look for our next kicker, first it's about being able to hit field goals and extra points," Smith said. "Yeah, we would also like for him to put it out of the end zone on kickoffs. But we're not just looking for a kickoff guy. We're looking for a guy who can hit field goals and be accurate."
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.