_1980s: 35.6 percent
_1990s: 47.8 percent
_2000s: 53.0 percent
And this year, it’s better still: 55.9 percent.
With 68 field goals attempted _ and 38 made _ from 50-plus yards so far, the NFL is on pace for a record 132 long-distance attempts this season, which would better the mark of 104 in 2008 and ‘09.
“Just like running backs are getting bigger, faster, stronger, kickers are getting bigger and stronger and can kick farther and are more accurate and consistent,” said Denver’s Matt Prater, who is 9 of 11 from 50 yards and out, the best percentage in league history with a minimum of 10 attempts.
“The technique, basically if you look at every single kicker when they make contact with the ball, they’re all in the same position. They start differently but when they make contact, they’re always in the same exact kicking position.”
That’s because every kicker in the league played soccer as a kid and all employ the soccer-style kick that has improved place-kickers’ accuracy over the decades.
Hall of Fame kicker Lou “The Toe” Groza made 54.9 percent of his field goal attempts, a percentage that would get him run off the roster today, not enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
“The pressure now to be 85 percent or better on your field goals might be more relevant now than it was in the ‘80s or ‘70s,” Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter said. “Back then if your field goal percentage was 80 percent, you were doing really well. Now it’s like you’re on the verge of struggling.”
“If you can’t make 80 to 85 percent, you’re probably not going to be a kicker in the NFL,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Or you’ll be a guy who’s getting an opportunity to kick somewhere else.”
Titans kicker Rob Bironas, who has made the most field goals in the league since 2005 and has an 85.3 percent career accuracy rate, started playing soccer when he was 4 and kept it up until college.
“The muscle memory you build over those years played is key. Once you get down good mechanics, your body remembers how to do it,” he said.
The first soccer-style kicker in pro football was Pete Gogolak, who played for Buffalo in 1964-65 and for the New York Giants from 1966-74.
Back in the ‘70s, many kickers were foreigners, and they helped usher out the old style straight-on kicking style with the square-toed shoes that didn’t provide as much oomph as the modern technique where the kicker approaches the ball from an angle and makes contact with the instep of his foot.