The decision: Why the Broncos chose to attempt a 64-yard field goal
SEATTLE — About 20 minutes after the clocks at Lumen Field hit 0:00, Nathaniel Hackett was back in the Broncos’ locker room. He’d done his coaching post-game duty, answering questions from team outlets and the independent media. And now he was back among his players, giving hugs and quiet words of support amid defeat’s gloom.
This is what Hackett does best. He offers steadfast, unwavering support of his guys.
And a few minutes earlier, when asked about the decision to try and win the game with what would have been the second-longest field goal in the history of the sport — and the longest ever made outdoors — Hackett cited his belief in Brandon McManus’ assertion of his range.
That McManus was good to 64 yards, and if the ball was on the left hashmark, McManus was in position to make the kick.
“I gave them that spot — 46-yard, left hash — and they got me exactly to that spot. So, I was ready. I knew that there was a good chance that we might kick it,” McManus said.
A moment later, he added, “I totally believe I can make that kick.”
But how hard is such a kick?
Well, only two kicks from 64 yards or longer have ever been made in NFL history — although just 41 had ever been attempted. One of them was in Denver, on an icy 2013 afternoon, when Matt Prater line-drove a 64-yarder through the uprights just before halftime. The other was Justin Tucker’s 66-yard game-winner for Baltimore last year at Detroit.
“I have confidence in him, and if we have to put him in that situation again, I think he’ll be able to make it,” Hackett said.
Sixty-four was within McManus’ self-proclaimed end-game range.
At other junctures in the contest, the range is different.
“We do two different situations,” McManus explained “I’ll do, like, a normal distance in the first or third quarters — to be a normal kick, which will probably be more around the 40-yard line, so you’re kicking a 58-yarder, at a pretty high percentage.
“I’d say that would be an 80-percent kick. From that distance (64 yards), obviously the percentages are lower, but I’ve attempted so many (in practice), like you’ve said, and that was my goal, was to make more of them from that distance.
“I would definitely say that it’s more in the 65-70-percent range.”
But the truth is, that sort of percentage doesn’t mesh with the broader sample size of the sport’s history under live, full-speed conditions. And even in the current era of howitzer-legged kickers, anything 60-plus remains difficult — especially in stadiums without a roof.
Consider this: In the last 10 years, kickers are 18-of-66 from 60-plus — 27.2 percent. That percentage rises to 38.1 for games played in stadiums with a roof, either fixed or retractable. It drops to 22.2 percent — 10-of-45 in stadiums that are open-air, like Lumen Field.
Even Tucker, considered the gold standard of kickers today, is just 2-of-6 from beyond 60 yards — and both of his successful attempts came inside.
As for fourth-and-5, which the Broncos eschewed? Well, since 1994, teams down one score that go for it on fourth-and-5 convert 46.5 percent of their opportunities.
And from there, the field-goal success rates rise.
In the same post-1994 sample size, attempts from 63-65 yards have a 16.2-percent success rate. Attempts from 58-60 yards rise to 34.4 percent. But if the Broncos had taken first-and-10 from the 41 — with, presumably, 40 seconds on the clock, since they could have used their timeout earlier — getting 10 more yards beyond that would have had a super-sized impact, as 48-to-50-yard kicks have a success rate of 65.6 percent since 1994 — with McManus just a bit above that, at 66.7-percent from 48 to 50 yards.
NFL’s Next Gen Stats took it a step further, pointing out that McManus’ chances of making it from 64 yards were 14.2 percent … but the chances of converting fourth-and-5 were 42.1 percent, and the chances of scoring at least a field goal to win after a successful fourth-down conversion were 66.2 percent.
Thus, the chances of hitting it from 64: 14.2 percent.
The chances of getting the fourth down and then winning: 27.9 percent.
It’s like making one bet versus a parlay — when one bet has much longer odds than the two legs of the parlay.
Monday, the Broncos’ bet didn’t pay off.
Hackett has some Ted Lasso in him. He’ll believe in his players to the end. That is one of the reasons why you can expect the sort of fight-to-the-end effort that Monday saw. But even Ted had to tell Roy Kent that he wasn’t starting against Manchester City. And there will come points where just because a player says he can … doesn’t mean that doing so will be the call.
Monday night, one can argue, could have been one of those points.