3. What is at the root of Harrison Butker‘s PAT issues?
As is well documented, Harrison Butker’s issues don’t lie in kicking field goals (he’s 15-of-17). It’s extra points that are giving him troubles, with six missed PATs in six different games. This tells us that it’s a mental issue, not a technical one. So what are the underlying factors here?
One of my favorite books from my childhood is Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. I’ve kept my original copy all these years, and I’ve also gotten a newer copy for my children. In fact, I just read it to my son a couple nights ago. In the book, Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, are trying to dig a cellar for the town hall of a small rural town called Popperville. Mike Mulligan makes a questionable deal to get paid only if he and Mary Anne can complete the job before sundown.
You can see for yourself what happens in the book, but one premise that holds true to Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel is that when people would stop to watch them dig, they would dig a little bit faster and a little bit better. The more people that came to watch, the faster and better that they would dig.
In the sporting world, Mike Mulligan would be what we call a “gamer.” If you’ve played or coached a sport, then you know that some players operate this way. Sure, they might be there to practice, but when the lights come on, the gamer takes it to another level. It is an inimitable quality that cannot be replicated.
You either have it or you don’t.
We have evidence to believe that Harrison Butker is a gamer. We all remember his 44-yard game-winner against the Vikings in 2019.
He did it again in Week 2 this year, banging a 58-yarder in overtime to beat the Chargers—after connecting on a 53-yarder that was negated by a Chiefs penalty, and then a subsequent 58-yarder just after the Chargers called a timeout.
One quality that will affect a gamer is the atmosphere around him. Just watching that 2019 kick brings back great memories of a packed Arrowhead Stadium going utterly bananas. We don’t have that in 2020. COVID-19 has robbed us of “the rocking crowd,” one of the most tangible components of what gives a team home-field advantage. Sure, Butker showed up for the OT winner in Los Angeles this year, but the magnitude of the situation was enough to give him the adrenaline necessary to get the job done in spite of the empty stadium.
There are a few common threads that can be drawn from each of Butker’s missed extra points this season. Three of them were in the first half of games (Los Angeles, Baltimore and Buffalo), while three of them were in the 4th quarter of games in which the Chiefs had a two-score lead or more (New England, Denver, Carolina). In other words, Butker has yet to miss a “clutch” extra point.
This is just a theory, but maybe Butker is starving for heart-pounding, pulsating stadiums and is struggling with relatively empty venues. Kansas City Royals fans wondered if we were witnessing this same type of slump in 2020 with shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, who was having the single-worst season any Royals hitter has ever had—until he wasn’t.
We see atmosphere play a part in NCAA basketball, with teams who play in compact basketball arenas until they get to the tournament at season’s end; suddenly they are often playing in huge indoor stadiums, and shooters struggle to get into a groove.
The Chiefs don’t want to have to count on double-digit leads to cushion errors from their kicking game. Once Butker gets his mental approach under control, he will conquer this slump.
Another point that needs to be made, just for those who have extreme aspirations against Butker being on this roster: Butker’s contract makes him immovable. Releasing the 25-year-old kicker would cost the Chiefs $5.145 million against the salary cap. It’s not an option. If the Chiefs were hellbent on getting Butker off the 53-man roster (spoiler: they’re not), the only loophole would be for them to make up a phantom injury for Butker, stash him on injured reserve, and hope he can get it together in 2021 while assuming that whatever kicker comes in off the street is a better option than Butker. That’s not happening, but it’s literally the only other option at this juncture.
Without a few years’ worth of quality kicking to support his case, Butker could be in a very different situation. But regardless of how his season goes from here, he has earned the right to be the Chiefs’ kicker for the remainder of 2020.