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Teams more successful going for two

11/18/2004

Two points, appropriately enough, on two-pointers in 2004.

First, the two-point option is being used by coaches far less than in most previous seasons. Second, the success rate for two-point conversions is on pace to be the highest since the NFL, amid some controversy, adopted the college rule in 1994.

Through the first 10 weeks of this season, teams have converted 21 of 41 two-point tries following touchdowns. The 51.2 percent success rate tops the previous best, 50.9 percent in 1994, and is far superior to the cumulative rate, 43.5 percent, for the 1994-2003 seasons.

Nearly as significant as the conversion rate, though, is the perception that, after a decade of mismanaging and misunderstanding all of the elements of the two-point try, NFL head coaches finally have a handle on how and when to utilize it. In the past, coaches seemed to turn to the two-point try far too early in games, and in circumstances that were ill-fit for the risk-versus-reward nuances it offered.

"[But] I think now, after having it be a part of the game for a while and seeing the plusses and the minuses of it, we've figured it out better," said St. Louis coach Mike Martz early this season. "We're much smarter in using it now."

Any analysis of how the two-point is used, as opposed to how successful it has been, is largely subjective. But the widespread perception is that head coaches are not butchering the two-point option as much as in the past. Indeed, the vast majority of two-point attempts in 2004 have come not only in the fourth quarter, but late in the final period, when coaches legitimately understand their scoring opportunities are limited.

Ever since the NFL embraced the college extra-point option in '94, coaches have carried with them on the sidelines cards that essentially instruct them about when a two-point attempt is appropriate. The two-point cards, with a formula said to have been devised by Dick Vermeil when he was head coach at UCLA, seemed relatively fool-proof. But the card still left some room for interpretation, and NFL coaches often looked foolhardy with their two-point decisions.

This year, at least to this juncture of the season, there has been much less criticism of how coaches have used the two-point option.

That epiphany has translated into fewer two-point attempts than in most past seasons. The current pace, 41 two-point attempts in the first 144 games, projects to 73 for the entire season. While that would represent a slight increase over last season, when there were 66 attempts, it is well below the average of 98.1 two-point attempts in the nine years previous to 2003.

There have been four seasons in which teams logged 100-plus two-point tries, including a record 116 attempts in 1994 when the rule was implemented, but coaches are becoming a lot more selective now about when to eschew the one-point kick and go for two. There are, for instance, 10 teams this year that have yet to attempt a two-point conversion. And just nine franchises have logged multiple two-point tries.

In becoming more prudent, clearly, teams have become more successful.

Jacksonville, St. Louis and San Francisco have accounted for 13 of the 41 two-point attempts. They have also combined for 10 of 21 conversions. The Jaguars (four-for-four) and Rams (three-for-three) are perfect on two-point attempts. San Francisco, with six, leads all teams in two-point conversion tries.

Successful two-pointers have figured prominently into three of the Jaguars' six wins and Jack Del Rio's team not only has been perfect in its execution, but also in its timing, of the two-point tries. Even in the one game where the Jaguars converted a two-pointer but did not win, the extra extra point permitted Jacksonville to tie Indianapolis late in an Oct. 3 contest.

"You would prefer to not [employ] it, sure, but we work on it enough in practice that we are comfortable when we have to use it," said Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.