Sometimes, Super Bowls are blowouts. The last time the 49ers were in the game, for instance, San Francisco blitzed the San Diego Chargers 49-26 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicates.
Yet for every blowout, there’s a close game. Six times a Super Bowl has been decided by three points or less, and in some of those games a kicker has played a starring role for either his success (Jim O’Brien and Adam Vinatieri) or failure (Scott Norwood).
So, the reliability of a place-kicker going into a Super Bowl is no small thing – which means, of course, that the Niners have every reason to worry as they approach Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans against the Ravens on Feb. 3.
Kicker David Akers was so shaky late in the season that the 49ers signed free-agent Billy Cundiff to challenge him. Akers fought off the challenge and held on to his job, kicking in the team’s playoff wins over the Packers – in which he made a 36-yard field goal -- and Falcons. However, in his lone field-goal attempt against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game this past Sunday, Akers’ 38-yard kick clanked off the left upright.
Akers has now missed 14 of his past 38 field-goal tries.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t going to bring back Cundiff, or any other kicker, to put Akers through another test to keep his job. On Monday, Harbaugh told the Bay Area media: “David Akers is our kicker.”
Harbaugh, apparently, has seen enough good things from Akers recently to make him believe Akers is his best option.
Before Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, Harbaugh was seen intently watching Akers’ warm-ups in the Georgia Dome, and was asked about it.
“That’s pretty much every game,” Harbaugh said. “This was no different. I enjoy watching both kickers pregame, and he (Akers) had an outstanding pregame. He missed one 60-yarder. He was hitting the ball really well.”
Akers obviously was disappointed in seeing his field-goal attempt just miss, but he said for the most part he felt good against the Falcons.
“Three inches to the right and I would have had a perfect game today,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “All touchbacks, real deep balls so they couldn’t get returns. I felt really good going out and kicking the ball. I thought it (the field-goal try) would come in a little bit more.
“Again, it’s just one of those things I just keep scratching my head.”
Akers’ loss of reliability has been one of the most unexpected aspects of this surging 49ers team. Last season, when he was the NFL’s best kicker, Akers set league records for field goals in a season (44) and points for a kicker (166). He seemed automatic, and his strong leg made him a threat on field goals over 50 yards. In this season’s opener against Green Bay, he made a 63-yarder, tying the NFL record for longest kick.
Then, late in the season, Akers’ accuracy drifted away just like Sunday’s kick. It’s something he still can’t explain.
“It’s kind of a crazy thing,” said Akers. “I’m just glad it (Sunday’s miss) didn’t affect anything.”