For the 49ers and their fans, it seemed a given Sunday that David Akers would make his 41-yard field-goal attempt in overtime, and San Francisco would escape with a victory over the Rams.
Before he lined up for his kick, Akers had been Mr. Reliable this season, hitting 15-of-16 field goal tries inside 42 yards.
So when Akers’ kick went wide, the Niners were a bit stunned.
“I don’t know what to make of this,” said 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis after Sunday’s game that ended in a 24-24 tie. “We have one of the best kickers in the game, and it came down to him at the end and he misses it. That tells you right there something wasn’t right.”
Since joining the 49ers last season, Akers, 37, has exceeded all expectations.
The six-time Pro Bowler scored 166 points, an NFL record for a kicker and made a league-record 44-of-52 field-goal tries, a terrific success rate of 84.6 percent, including nine from 50 or more yards.
So now people are wondering, what’s wrong with Akers?
This season he’s already missed six field-goal attempts (he’s 15-of-21) and his success rate is just 71.4 percent.
And, as Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, Akers’ misses have been magnified because he’s missed 4-of-9 tries in San Francisco’s two losses and Sunday’s tie.
In his blog Monday, Branch suggested three possible reasons for Akers’ drop in production this season: he’s in a temporary slump and will come out of it; he’s almost 38 and starting to decline; and holder Andy Lee has been playing with a broken thumb since the opener and his holds haven't been as consistently good this season.
Akers, who’s been unavailable to speak to the media since Sunday, hasn’t addressed his more frequent misses this season, but Mike Sando of ESPN has another theory for Akers’ drop this season.
Sando, in his NFC West blog Tuesday, says’ Akers’ statistical plunge “stems almost entirely from a reduction in chances from short range” because of the team’s improved performance in the red zone.
According to Sando, the 49ers are scoring TDs on 61.5 percent of red zone possessions, up from 40.7 last season when 32 of Akers’ 44 field goals came from inside 40 yards. So far this year, Akers is 8-for-8 on field goals inside the 40.
“Of course, missing from 41 yards in overtime was bad Sunday,” Sando writes. “But it’s misleading to say Akers is mired in a horrible slump.”
Sando’s bottom line is that, “The nature of his opportunities has changed more than Akers has changed.”
It certainly doesn’t seem as if Akers has lost leg strength or ability. He began this season by making six straight field goals, including an NFL record-tying 63-yarder.
Against the Bears Monday night at Candlestick Park, it’s very likely that Akers will play a key role. The solid Chicago defense could prove tough in the red zone, meaning Akers may have more chances. That will give the Niners, and their fans, a chance to see if Akers is truly in a slump.