SANTA CLARA — The last thing David Akers wants to do is let down his team. And he’s not sure why he even needs to publicly say as much.
Akers has been kicking footballs for a living long enough to know there are some rough stretches — and he is in a bit of one for the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers.
Only a year ago, Akers seemed almost perfect, and he practically was: setting an NFL single-season record with 44 field goals, and missing just eight kicks. This season, he is 15 for 21 — and was wide left on a 41-yard try in overtime of last Sunday’s 24-24 tie with the Rams that would have won the game.
No blaming this wayward kick on the Candlestick Park wind or any other elements. He just missed.
“I wish I could use that,” Akers said this week, regrouping for Monday night’s key NFC game against the Chicago Bears. “It’s something I’ve always been successful at. And when you don’t, and you let down your teammates and fans and the organization, absolutely it bothers you. I kicked very well in practice and had a great preseason. And then it’s been kind of a roller coaster.”
Not that his teammates are worried. Many are still surprised the Eagles let Akers go after 12 years in Philadelphia.
“David is one of the best kickers to ever play this game, so I don’t think there’s one guy in here who batted an eyelash or looked at David with any type of malice,” wide receiver Kyle Williams said. “I think he is probably the hardest guy on himself and that’s about it. Dave’s probably, we can argue, the best kicker to ever play the game. Bottom line.”
Akers, a six-time Pro-Bowler in his 15th NFL season out of Louisville, was considered among the 49ers’ most important offseason acquisitions when they signed him to a three-year deal in late July 2011 — right up there with NFL Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh.
He showed just why from Day 1, and the rest of the way as San Francisco fell just short of reaching the Super Bowl in a 20-17 overtime loss in the NFC title game to the eventual champion New York Giants.
Aside from his 44 made field goals last season, Akers also set a record for most attempted at 52 and most points without a touchdown with 166. That far surpassed the 49ers’ previous best for overall points — by Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, no less. Rice scored 138 points in 1987.
Sometimes, a kicker, or any other player, gets the breaks. Sometimes not.
“I put a lot of time and effort into this craft and it’s been a little different than I’m used to,” said Akers, who turns 38 on Dec. 9. “If my season and my career were to end today, I’d feel like I’ve given it my all. I hope it doesn’t. I hope to get back on the horse and do a great job for the 49ers and the fans and the team this year.”
Just more than two months ago, in San Francisco’s season-opening win at Green Bay, Akers booted a 63-yard field goal that bounced off the crossbar and through the uprights.
In the moment, Akers’ mouth fell open and his eyes popped as he threw his arms into the air in both celebration and disbelief. His teammates proceeded to mob him after the record-tying kick.
Akers called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” He is showing now that he is human, too.
“You go through it. You’re either the hero or the goat,” Akers said. “And that’s kind of the business we’re in. You just have to kind of take that in stride and try to gnaw on it if you don’t do well. And if you do well, you understand that it was one kick, and you don’t get too high about it.”
Akers acknowledges he has misjudged kicks a couple of times this season based on the wind, then tried to overadjust at other times and come up short. Against the Rams, it was none of that.
“This one over the weekend, I just wanted to smooth it and came off the ball a little bit,” he said. “You can second guess yourself all the time. You try to take the situation and make the best decision for that time about how to approach the ball. Obviously, I didn’t get a chance to re-kick that. … You know, you try to set it up for each kick and do the best you can and, obviously, I didn’t do what I needed to do at that time.”
Harbaugh doesn’t seem concerned that Akers is experiencing any confidence issues.
“No, not that I’m aware of,” the coach said. “I’m not pinpointing any reason why. I have no indication that he’s not confident, either.”
Akers’ calm demeanor has served him well over the years, and he hasn’t changed much during his career when it comes to technique or approach.
The 49ers are counting on Akers getting back in his usual groove down the stretch as they look to defend their division crown and chase a first-round playoff bye. And Monday night’s matchup with the Bears very well could be decided with his leg.
“Akers is going to be a big part of that game if we’re past the 50 making those field goals,” cornerback Carlos Rogers said.
Akers sure plans to deliver the next chance he gets.
“The No. 1 thing is, whether you drive a kick or miss a kick, I know it affects the outcome of the game for the organization and my teammates,” he said. “You go from one high to a low and that’s not what you want to do. It’s not what you want to do as a professional. It’s not what you want to do as a competitor. I want to win and be able to feel good that I’m part of the team, you know?”