TAMPA — Chandler Catanzaro can't pinpoint why he has struggled to convert extra-point opportunities this season, especially given the fact that last season he didn't miss a single extra-point attempt.
The Bucs kicker's four extra-point misses — all of them uniquely coming after the team's first touchdown drive of the game — can easily be forgotten. The Bucs have other glaring issues, like their league-high 19 turnovers that have prompted this week's quarterback change. But
Catanzaro's misses have still put the Bucs at a disadvantage.
In fact, had Ryan Fitzpatrick not hit Chris Godwin in the end zone to convert a two-point conversion on the Bucs' final drive Sunday in Cincinnati, Catanzaro's extra point miss with 4:36 remaining in the second quarter would have been much more glaring. It would have been the difference between tying the score on an extra point and losing it because of an earlier miss.
Entering this week's pivotal game at Carolina, the Bucs have decided to start Fitzpatrick at quarterback over turnover-riddled Jameis Winston. And while there's always going to be more importance placed on quarterbacks than kickers, the Bucs appear content with sticking with Catanzaro through his struggles.
"I think he's a good kicker," coach Dirk Koetter said. "I watch him kick out there every day. He hardly ever misses. I don't know what's going on with the first extra point in the game. As I say in here all the time, if a guy's on our team and he's up on game day, he's my guy because he's our guy. That's just the end of it. I just don't think of it any more than that."
Sunday's miss marked the third straight week Catanzaro missed an extra point. That includes two games that were decided by a field goal after being tied late in the fourth quarter.
So how does a kicker who converted all 29 extra-point chances last year with the Jets miss four in the first seven games?
"You see the goalposts; the ball's not going through," Koetter said. "That's what's behind it."
Catanzaro's been accurate in practice. He believes in his preparation. He's studied film, and he doesn't feel like he's changed his leg swing. He believes the fact that his misses have been on his first kick is an anomaly, that each time he kicks, whether it's the first extra point or a winning field goal, he approaches them with the same mentality.
"I didn't have this issue pop up last year," Catanzaro said. "I made all of them, so it's definitely frustrating. … I'm doing my best to fix it and I work really hard at this."
In trying to take the pressure off, Catanzaro said he's trying to look at his extra-point attempts like 33-yard field goal tries, knowing that over the past two years he's been 19-for-19 on field goals from inside 40 yards.
"I'm just going to treat it that way and that's what I did last year," he said. "It's definitely on my mind, but I'm doing my best to fix it. I've been hitting the ball really well, especially in my preparation. I take a lot of pride in my preparation and I work really hard at it and I watch film when need to. The most important thing is sticking to my routine and trusting it. Yeah, it's definitely frustrating. I know that more than anybody and I care about this more than anybody else does. I really do."
In the Bucs' overtime win over the Browns two weeks ago, Catanzaro missed an extra point and a 40-yard field-goal attempt that would have won the game in regulation before hitting a winning 59-yarder in overtime.
The previous week in Atlanta, he missed an extra point after the Bucs took a lead on a touchdown four minutes into the game, but when the Falcons answered with their own touchdown — and converted the extra point — Tampa Bay never held another lead.
"Yeah, it's hard to say," Koetter said when asked how much the misses have put the team behind. "A lot of stuff happens in a game. It's been the first extra point, so it's been in the early part of a game. So it's still like any mistake that any player makes that might go unnoticed. His is just real noticeable. But like any other, there's a lot of things that we have to do better as a team and that's one of them."
No kicker with more than 12 extra-point attempts has missed more than Catanzaro's four, and he is one of just three kickers in the NFL to miss more than two extra points this season. His four misses through seven games are more than Bucs kickers missed as a team through any of the past three seasons.
But Catanzaro has made 10-of-12 field goal attempts. His current 83.3 percent field-goal attempt success rate is identical to what he posted over the entire season last year with the Jets — he made 25-of-30 attempts — a season that led to the Bucs signing him to a three-year deal that included $3.75 million guaranteed.
That field goal success rate is far better than the Bucs' 72.4 percent success rate over the previous three seasons while watching a cavalcade of kickers, including Robert Aguayo, Kyle Brindza, Nick Folk and Patrick Murray.
Just how long is Catanzaro's rope? The Bucs brought in two kickers to try out two weeks ago, which isn't uncommon given the situation. Koetter was asked Wednesday whether the missed extra point would make him consider going for two more often, and he responded matter of factly.
"If we were going to do that, then we just need a kickoff guy (as a kicker)," Koetter said. "If we're going to question if we're going to make an extra point, then how are we ever going to kick a field goal? So I don't think like that."
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.