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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Sean Payton played the percentages

By Pat Yasinskas

I know a lot of New Orleans fans are questioning Sean Payton’s decision to have Garrett Hartley attempt a 29-yard field goal on a first-down play in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans. The mailbag is full of those questions.

You all know what happened. Hartley missed the attempt, the Falcons went down the field and won the game, fans are second-guessing Payton and the Saints worked out veteran kickers John Carney and Kris Brown on Tuesday. Still no word on if they plan to sign either of them.

When Payton decided to kick on first down, my gut reaction was it was the right call. The Saints were tired and needed to put an end to the game. They had put Hartley in position for a chip shot. I didn’t think it was the wrong call.

But, when I started hearing so many critics, I decided to check into the percentages. I reached out to ESPN Stats & Information and asked what history has shown about field goal attempts from 29 yards or less.

The response I got was a survey of all field-goal attempts during the regular season and post season since 2001. On field goals of exactly 29 yards, kickers have made 231 of 255 attempts. That’s 90.6 percent.

On field goal attempts of 29 yards or less, kickers are 2,574 of 2,686. That’s 95.8 percent.

Could Payton have run a couple more plays and gotten a few more yards? Sure. Would it really have mattered? I’m not so sure. He was playing the percentages and the percentages said an NFL kicker should make that field goal more than 90 percent of the time.