On Sunday, San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers lined up to kick a 38-yard field goal, with the team trailing the Atlanta Falcons, 24-21. Matt Ryan had just been intercepted by Chris Culliver near midfield and had the game been in its final seconds, the 49ers would have had a shot at forcing overtime.
Fortunately for them, it was not the final seconds and they had more opportunities to gut out an eventual 28-24 victory, as Akers knocked the kick off the left upright, missing his only attempt of the day.
A cursory glance at Twitter during the game would have shown the complete lack of faith in Akers from the fanbase. Fans consistently noted the miss before it even happened, and there was nothing but a total lack of surprise when Akers missed it.
SB Nation's own Mocking The Draft even made the joke that the 49ers would draft Dustin Hopkins, the kicker from Florida State, who happens to be the consensus top kicker entering the draft. They tweeted the selection directly after Akers missed the kick.
At this point, it's a near certainty that the 49ers will look to replace Akers after the season. Following the NFC Championship, many felt that Akers might be replaced right then and there, but Jim Harbaugh stated that the decision has already been made and Akers will kick in the Super Bowl, even if he didn't seem especially in love with the idea.
Akers' regression is decidedly odd. Last season, he set the record for the longest field goal made at Candlestick Park (55 yards), broke the 49ers' franchise record for most points scored in a single season, broke the all-time NFL record for field goals in a season and broke the NFL record for most points by a kicker in a single season.
In that game, Akers even threw a touchdown pass. He made his sixth Pro Bowl, and seemed to get things started off the right way in 2013, tying the NFL record for longest field goal by hitting a 63-yard try against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 of this season.
All said, Akers had the best season of his storied career in San Francisco last season, and has followed it up with what is easily his worst. He hit 84.6 percent of his field goals a season ago, making 20 from 40-plus yards. This year, he's made 69.0 percent of his field goals, going 29-for-42 on them.
As to why he's been doing so poorly, that's up for debate. He's been in the league for 14 years and says there were some injury concerns heading into this season, but you can only blame injuries for so long when he's actually out there kicking. Maybe he's hit a wall and will never be the same, or perhaps he's just having a bad year and still has some good left in him.
All that's known is that he was so bad this year that the 49ers briefly brought in Billy Cundiff for competition. Cundiff was released by the Washington Redskins after going 7-for-12 on his attempts through the first five games of the season. That's 58.3 percent.
That's right, the 49ers brought in a 58.3 percent kicker to compete with Akers ... that's how bad he was doing. Ultimately, they stuck with Akers, and if Harbaugh is regretting the decision, it's too late to turn back now, as noted by Niners Nation. Cundiff cannot be brought back, even if the 49ers made room for him on their roster, as per league rules.
So they're stuck with Akers, who just missed a kick that had the potential to sink the 49ers in the NFC Championship for the second straight year. What does history have to say about this?
Famously, field goals (and field goal misses) have decided conference championship games more than they have Super Bowls, but there's some significant misses, to be sure. Scott Norwood had the famous "wide right", in which he missed a 47-yard field goal with eight seconds left in Super Bowl XXV, and let's not even get started on Geno Yepremian and his miss, followed by his ill-fated pass attempt.
Akers has a whole career of dependability to look back on, but that dependability can only get him through so many one-off misses. At some point, those misses become a tangible low point and Akers has definitely reached that.
After the NFC Championship, Akers said that he was three inches away from having a perfect day. On another day, he could have been three inches away from the 49ers losing out on their bid for a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
This has been his worst season yet and you can bet that Harbaugh would not be a confident man if it were down to Akers from any distance with the game on the line. It is arguably a worst-case scenario in which the 49ers still have a chance to win.