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Mr. Automatic becomes Mr. Traumatic for 49ers

  • Article by: GREG BISHOP
  • New York Times
  • January 23, 2013 - 10:45 PM

 

In this, the strangest season of his NFL career, David Akers connected on a 63-yard field goal, nearly shanked his way out of employment in San Francisco, underwent treatment for a double hernia injury, received death threats on social media, shuttered his Twitter account and won a job competition that took place before the playoffs started.

Some season.

It will end a week and a half from now, in the ultimate triumph or perhaps the worst kind of defeat. It could end with the payoff Akers always hoped for, his first Super Bowl ring. Or it could end with another missed field goal in a season filled with far too many of them, a result that would live in ignominy for a kicker known for his reliability until 2012.

Monday, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters in San Francisco that "David Akers is our kicker" for the Super Bowl, a decision Harbaugh made early, perhaps to inspire confidence in either his kicker or his fanbase, or even in himself. Yet his decisions over the past month spoke to a lack of confidence, not an abundance of it.

The kick that typified Akers' season took place Sunday, in the third quarter of the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons in Atlanta. The 49ers trailed by three points. Akers trotted onto the field, conducted his usual routine and sailed a 38-yard attempt toward the goal posts. The kick struck the left upright and bounced into the end zone below.

Afterward, Akers told the San Francisco Chronicle he was three inches from a perfect game, which is both true and precisely the point. Super Bowls have been, will be, decided by less.

"This has been the toughest year for him," Jerrold Colton, Akers' agent, said Tuesday. "He hasn't performed up to his usual standards. No one is harder on David than himself. By the same token, he still has tremendous confidence."

Akers made All-Pro in 2011 with a season among the best at his position. He set league records for field goals in one season (44) and points for a kicker (166). His successful attempt against the Giants tied the NFC title game, which went into overtime. He did all this in his first year with San Francisco, the perfect revenge on the Philadelphia Eagles, who let him walk after 12 seasons.

His charmed existence in San Francisco continued in the season opener this year, when his 63-yard try against the Green Bay Packers hit the Lambeau Field crossbar -- and still went between the uprights, tying an NFL record. Not bad for a man who would turn 38 in December.

Akers, in fact, converted his first six attempts. Then everything fell apart. He shanked kicks with alarming regularity, missed right and left and short, but left most often. He totaled 13 unsuccessful field-goal attempts in the regular season, good for his worst conversion rate (69 percent) since 1998.

Akers, of course, will continue with the mentality that carried him through 15 hazardous years, past dozens of challengers for his job, all the way to the most critical game of his career.

"He believes the next kick is going through the uprights," Colton said.

© 2014 Star Tribune