When NFL owners agreed to implement a degree of difficulty to virtually automatic extra-point kicks in 2015, I assumed few teams would benefit more from the corresponding increase in two-point attempts than the Seattle Seahawks.
Between the dynamic dual-threat skills of quarterback Russell Wilson and the sheer power of running back Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks figured to be at the forefront of a groundbreaking trend: Score a touchdown and go for the gusto. Make it a habit.
That hasn’t happened. Since Lynch punctuated his team’s second touchdown of the season by barreling into the end zone during the opener at St. Louis, the Hawks have attempted a two-point conversion only four times. None has worked.
A failed fourth-quarter conversion last Sunday, after Jermaine Kearse’s touchdown reception gave Seattle a 26-21 lead over Pittsburgh, typified an approach to the two-point gambit that borders on indifference. From an empty backfield that screamed to the world — and to the Steelers defense in particular — “this next play will be a pass!” Wilson lofted a ball beyond the reach of Kevin Smith.
I know, Monday morning quarterbacking is easy, and easier still on a Wednesday. But there’s got to be a more efficient way to move 2 yards than a fade-route lob to a backup-to-the-backup receiver.
On a subsequent two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter, running back Thomas Rawls took a handoff and got stuffed for no gain. Rawls shares Lynch’s determination to keep plowing after contact, but the Steelers were all over him.
Both lackluster conversion attempts could have used some imagination. Using Rawls as a threat on a play-action pass, say, briefly neutralizes the defense. So does faking a handoff to Rawls, allowing Wilson to execute a bootleg.
Forgive my dwelling on some extra points the Seahawks squandered on a day they scored 39, but teams with 6-5 records and tenuous playoff aspirations don’t have the luxury of shrugging off two points, much less four of them.
How important is a successful two-point conversion? According to the number crunchers at Pro Football Reference, the Seahawks had a 47.9 percent chance of winning Sunday after Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton gave Pittsburgh a 27-26 lead at the 11:40 mark of the fourth quarter. But once Roethlisberger’s conversion pass ended up in the hands of Richard Sherman rather than intended receiver Antonio Brown, the Seahawks chances of winning spiked to 54.6 percent.
In a wild game reminiscent of the 1985 brawl between middleweights Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns — they exchanged about 10,000 punches in eight minutes — it can be argued that a failed conversion was the turning point.
I’m sensing the fate of the 2015 Seahawks will hinge on another conversion attempt. Just a hunch, mind you, but the season has a kind of unsettled-from-the-start vibe to it. The notion nothing can go smoothly was reinforced Sunday when tight end Jimmy Graham, enjoying his most productive game in a Seattle uniform, suffered a career-threatening knee injury.
Speaking of smooth, Hawks placekicker Steven Hauschka used to convert extra points the way a Las Vegas blackjack dealer shuffles cards. Nothing to it. In 205 attempts before the rules change, he missed three times.
Now that the extra point is more of a grind — the ball is snapped from the 15-yard line, instead of the 2 — Hauschka has missed three times in 25 attempts.
From the Believe It or Not stat file: Hauschka is more accurate on field-goal attempts (21 of 22) than on extra points.
With December looming and the Seahawks facing potential inclement-weather issues at Minnesota and Baltimore as well as in Seattle, coach Pete Carroll could and should be tempted to renounce 32-yard kicks worth one point for the opportunity to score two points from the 2-yard line.
Give these conversion attempts a chance. Rawls might be an undrafted rookie, but he’s an all-out type who sells the play-action fake with the moxie of a veteran. Aside from Carolina’s Cam Newton, no NFL quarterback is more adept on his feet than Wilson.
There’s no law prohibiting a second back lining up behind Wilson, by the way. Install the versatile Fred Jackson into the conversion package and the options multiply.
The NFL wasn’t intent on doing the two-time defending NFC champions a favor by increasing the distance of an extra-point kick, but that’s what happened. Here was a rule change delivered into the wheelhouse of a team hard-wired to score two points by moving two yards, and it has responded to the rule change with a shrug.
Memo to the Seahawks: Your season has reached the urgent phase, and points are precious. You’re not good enough to shrug.
John McGrath: firstname.lastname@example.org