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Head Coach Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers has been keeping a careful watch on kicker David Akers.
While Niners fans are of course praying for a victory in the Super Bowl Sunday, they’re also no doubt offering up a secondary plea:
"Please don’t let the game come down to David Akers."
Akers, the best kicker in the NFL in his first season with the 49ers in 2011, has had a rocky second season. He missed his only attempt against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game, didn’t connect on several key attempts late in games in 2012 and had a league-high 13 missed field-goal tries this season (while making 29).
He even survived a postseason competition with free-agent Billy Cundiff to keep his job before the Niners beat the Packers in the NFC Divisional round.
“It’s been a tough personal season for myself,” Akers told the Sacramento Bee this week. “Injuries in the beginning of the year, having surgery (for a double hernia in the off-season) and then rehabbing. … Having a great opening game and then some inconsistencies.”
Going into Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Ravens, the 49ers have few question marks except for Akers. Will he be the kicker who was so solid last season and in the early part of 2012 – when he made a record-tying 63-yarder and his six first field-goal attempts – or the guy who seemed to have lost something late this season?
Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, now a CBS analyst, told the Bee that Akers is likely to feel a lot of pressure whenever it is he lines up for a first field-goal attempt on Sunday, especially if it's not a short one.
“There will be a lot of eyes on that first 35-yard-plus field goal,” he said. “It could have a tremendous impact on the rest of the game depending on how he kicks it.”
This week, by all reports, Akers has been kicking well. In fact, he has been kicking well in practice since the end of the regular season, but in two playoff games he’s 1-for-2. Over his career, he’s made plenty of big playoff kicks, but also has missed some. He’s 36-of-44 in the postseason.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh told John Clayton, the pool reporter at Friday’s 49ers practice, that Akers has been outstanding in recent practices.
“David Akers didn’t miss a kick all week,” said Harbaugh.
Whether that translates to Akers being over his slump is what the 49ers or their fans won’t know until he lines up for a kick Sunday.
Akers isn’t saying he’s got his groove back, or making and bold predictions that he’ll be flawless Sunday.
This week, he was asked how he would feel if the game came down to a last-minute field-goal try by him.
“I think any kicker, and any player, will truly say (he’d) love to have an absolute blowout,” Akers told Sports Illustrated. “Because then it’s fun the whole time, you just relax. But if it comes down to where you have to make a kick, obviously I’m going to go out and give it the best shot I have and hope that it comes out on the positive side for us.
“I’ve never been a guy to guarantee anything. So that’s what I’m going to do – give it the best effort I have.”
Many of Akers’ misses have been near misses, just like his failed attempt in the NFC title game against Atlanta that kept moving left until it hit the top of the upright. He told Sports Illustrated that three of his misses – a 55-yarder vs. the Jets, a 51-yarder against the Rams and a 50-yarder in New Orleans – were off target by inches.
“It’s like, my goodness, if I could have a foot, I’d have made three or four more kicks,” Akers said. “We’re not off by a lot.”
Niners special teams coach Brad Seely says he still has confidence in Akers. Recently, the kicker has been getting back to basics.
“You just go back to fundamentals,” Seely told the Bee. “It’s not like the guy’s missing the ball 4 or 5 yards off the post. It’s minor, minor things.”
Akers says he can only work hard and have faith in himself. He’s done it before and he can do it again.
“We kick well in practice and pregame,” Akers told USA Today this week. “So it’s one of thoe things like, what do you do? There are a lot of times when you just scratch your head.
“Even coaches are like, ‘That looks good. Form looks good. Why’s it going this way?' I’ve lost a good amount of hair on top of my head, and I think more and more is falling into my helmet each and every week.”