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How often does the decision to attempt a long FG backfire in the NFL?

Only 16 drives in 2022 started with a missed or blocked FG from 55 or longer and half of those drives ended in a score

Denver Broncos v Baltimore Ravens Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

There were only 16 drives in 2022 that started with a FG that was either missed or blocked from 55 yards away or longer. There were 79 FGs attempted from 55 of longer in 2022. The success rate on these FG attempts was 60.8% (48 of 79). See the table below for all attempts from > 54 yards in 2022.

Kicker Tm FGM FGA FG%
Justin Tucker BAL 4 8 50.0%
Greg Zuerlein NYJ 3 6 50.0%
Matt Gay RAM 5 6 83.3%
Daniel Carlson OAK 5 6 83.3%
Brandon McManus DEN 1 5 20.0%
Greg Joseph MIN 2 5 40.0%
Wil Lutz NOR 2 4 50.0%
Graham Gano NYG 3 4 75.0%
Jason Myers SEA 3 3 100.0%
Cade York CLE 2 3 66.7%
Matt Prater ARI 3 3 100.0%
Chris Boswell PIT 2 3 66.7%
Brett Maher DAL 1 3 33.3%
Younghoe Koo ATL 0 2 0.0%
Joey Slye WAS 2 2 100.0%
Evan McPherson CIN 2 2 100.0%
Ka'imi Fairbairn HOU 2 2 100.0%
Harrison Butker KAN 1 2 50.0%
Mason Crosby GNB 1 2 50.0%
Tyler Bass BUF 1 2 50.0%
Matthew Wright KAN 1 1 100.0%
Ryan Succop TAM 0 1 0.0%
Cairo Santos CHI 0 1 0.0%
Jake Elliott PHI 1 1 100.0%
Jason Sanders MIA 1 1 100.0%
Chase McLaughlin IND 0 1 0.0%
26 kickers 48 79 60.8%

Former Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus hit one of five in 2022 (his made attempt was from 55 was in the win over the 49ers). His misses were from 56 (2x), 63 and 64. The miss from 64 ended the game (and would have won the opener against the Seahawks). The first miss from 56 in the loss to the Jets. The Jets drive following that miss resulted in a punt.

The next long miss was in the loss to the Panthers. It was at the end of the half so there was no harm in attempting it. The last long miss was in the loss to the Ravens. It was from 63 and similar to the miss vs the Seahawks, it was at the end of the game and would have won it for the Broncos. So McManus had two chances to win games at the end for the Broncos in 2022 and failed on both. With only eight missed FG attempts in 2022 it’s easy to see if any of those those other misses would have won the game for the Broncos.

Two of his eight missed FGs were blocked - one from 34 (in the loss to the Colts) and one from 25 (in the second loss to the Raiders). Below is a list of all eight misses.

Date Location Opp Result Dist Blk?
9/12/2022 Away SEA L 16-17 64 N
9/25/2022 Home SFO W 11-10 53 N
10/6/2022 Home IND L 9-12 34 Y
10/23/2022 Home NYJ L 9-16 56 N
11/20/2022 Home LVR L 16-22 25 Y
11/27/2022 Away CAR L 10-23 56 N
12/4/2022 Away BAL L 9-10 63 N
12/18/2022 Home ARI W 24-15 38 N

The miss/block against the Raiders was at the end of the first half. The opponent drives after those other three misses resulted in a punt, an interception, and a FG (vs the Cardinals). So for the 2022 Broncos, missed FGs generally did not result in opponent points on the ensuing drive (if not at end of half), but what about other teams in 2022?

In 2022 of the 31 missed FGs in 2022 from 55 or longer, 15 happened at the end of the half or end of the game so the opponent did not get the ball back with any time.

Since we have already analyzed two of them, there are only 29 missed or blocked attempts left to analyze. So let’s do that - analyze the rest of the failed decisions in 2022 in the regular season to attempt FGs from 55 or longer.

Date Tm H or A Opp Result Player Dist Good? Blk? Drive After Result
9/11/2022 PIT @ CIN W 23-20 Chris Boswell 55 N N punt
9/11/2022 ATL NOR L 26-27 Younghoe Koo 63 N Y end of game
9/12/2022 DEN @ SEA L 16-17 Brandon McManus 64 N N end of game
9/25/2022 MIN DET W 28-24 Greg Joseph 56 N N touchdown
9/25/2022 MIN DET W 28-24 Greg Joseph 56 N N touchdown
9/26/2022 DAL @ NYG W 23-16 Brett Maher 59 N N end of half
10/2/2022 NOR MIN L 25-28 Wil Lutz 61 N N end of game
10/16/2022 DAL @ PHI L 17-26 Brett Maher 59 N N end of game
10/16/2022 BAL @ NYG L 20-24 Justin Tucker 56 N N touchdown
10/23/2022 DEN NYJ L 9-16 Brandon McManus 56 N N punt
10/23/2022 CLE @ BAL L 20-23 Cade York 60 N Y punt
10/27/2022 BAL @ TAM W 27-22 Justin Tucker 61 N Y end of half
10/30/2022 MIN ARI W 34-26 Greg Joseph 56 N Y punt
10/30/2022 GNB @ BUF L 17-27 Mason Crosby 55 N N end of game
11/6/2022 BUF @ NYJ L 17-20 Tyler Bass 55 N N end of half
11/20/2022 CHI @ ATL L 24-27 Cairo Santos 56 N N FG
11/27/2022 ATL @ WAS L 13-19 Younghoe Koo 58 N N end of half
11/27/2022 BAL @ JAX L 27-28 Justin Tucker 67 N N end of game
11/27/2022 LVR @ SEA W 40-34 Daniel Carlson 56 N N punt
11/27/2022 DEN @ CAR L 10-23 Brandon McManus 56 N N end of half
11/28/2022 IND PIT L 17-24 Chase McLaughlin 59 N Y end of half
12/4/2022 NYG WAS T 20-20 Graham Gano 58 N N end of game
12/4/2022 DEN @ BAL L 9-10 Brandon McManus 63 N N end of game
12/4/2022 KAN @ CIN L 24-27 Harrison Butker 55 N N game ending drive
12/8/2022 LAR LVR W 17-16 Matt Gay 61 N N FG
12/11/2022 TAM @ SFO L 7-35 Ryan Succop 55 N N punt
12/18/2022 NYJ DET L 17-20 Greg Zuerlein 58 N N end of game
12/24/2022 BAL ATL W 17-9 Justin Tucker 55 N Y downs
1/1/2023 NYJ @ SEA L 6-23 Greg Zuerlein 57 N N FG
1/8/2023 NYJ @ MIA L 6-11 Greg Zuerlein 55 N N FG
1/8/2023 NOR CAR L 7-10 Wil Lutz 55 N Y FG

For most coaches, FG attempts from 55 or longer are only attempted at the end of the half or in end of game situations (at least they were in 2022). Only 18 teams even attempted a FG from 55 or longer in 2022, meaning that about half the league didn’t even try one. Four kickers accounted for about one third of all of the extra long FG attempts in 2022: Justin Tucker, Greg Zuerlein, Matt Gay and Daniel Carlson. Those four combined to hit on 17 of 26 from 55 or longer - 65%.

On drives after the 16 missed or blocked long FG attempts in 2022 that were not end of half or game, eight resulted in scoring drives by the opponent (3 TD, 5 FG) while six resulted in punts. In most of these 16 the head coach had to decide between a Hail-Mary pass or a long FG attempt.

Hail-Mary passes have a much much lower success rate than 55 or longer FG attempts. Since the start of the 2000 season, there have been 643 FG attempts from 55 or longer and 299 of them have been successful (46.6%). If we restrict it to the last ten regular seasons, the success rate on FGs from 55 or longer is 52.2%.

The success rate on Hail-Mary passes in the NFL was found to be roughly 10% a few years ago. While not all NFL FG kickers can make one from 55, similarly not all NFL QB have the arm to get the ball into the endzone with it spotted on the opponent’s 38. So the head coach may have little choice in the matter.

Of course there are other options on 4th down from the +38 with plenty of time remaining, punting or going for it. The decision to punt, try a FG, or go for it depends on the weather, the prowess of the offense, the prowess of the kicker and the stones of the coach. The feel or momentum of the game can also play a role. In 2022 there were only 15 punts from inside the opponent 39. The Panthers had the most with three “no guts” punts. They punted from the Bucs 38, the Lions 37 and the Falcons 35. In the game against the Lions, the Panthers were up 34-13 in the 4th quarter and chose to punt instead of trying a FG. In the game against the Bucs, the Panthers chose to punt from the Bucs 38 was 1:11 left to play in the 4th while leading 21-3. This was another kill the clock move. The only one that doesn’t make a who lot of sense for the Panthers was choosing to punt from the Falcon 35 while leading 3-0 with 7:53 left to play in the second quarter. Later in that same quarter the Panther kicker, Eddy Piniero, would hit from 49. Piniero hit from 54 in 2022, so he obviously has the ability to hit from 55, but maybe it was too windy at that point in the game to try one from 55. The weather at kickoff was 12 mph winds.

The Broncos did not punt from inside the opponent 39 last season. As we learned after the season-opening loss to the Seahawks, McManus convinced Nathaniel Hackett that he could hit from 64. While maybe he can in practice, he has never done so in a game. His career long is 61.