As David Akers attempted a 43-yard field goal Sunday, a television camera zeroed in on Jim Harbaugh's pained and grimacing face
"Barely," the 49ers head coach said as the third-quarter attempt passed inside the upright to give the 49ers a 10-6 lead. Akers previously had missed two attempts from 40 yards and beyond, and Harbaugh did not give the kicker a chance at two additional long-distance kicks, electing to go for it on fourth down instead.
Now Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Brad Seely must make a potentially huge decision - stick with Akers, who set an NFL record for field-goals made last year but who hasn't recaptured that 2011 form, or cast their playoff lot with a newcomer.
Harbaugh on Monday said the 49ers will hold kicking tryouts this week and that they also would consider sticking with Akers, a 14-year veteran. In fact, he said the team had three options. "We go forward with David," Harbaugh said. "We bring in a new kicker. Or we have two and let them compete for the job. We'll make that decision as we go."
Harbaugh has stuck up for Akers, 38, throughout the season, hoping he'd break out of a long slump that has seen him miss 13 attempts in the last 14 games. Two of those misses came in overtime games - a tie and a loss - against the Rams. During that time, other teams have snapped up available free agents.
That includes former Charger Nate Kaeding, who worked out for the 49ers in November but who was signed by the Dolphins Dec. 21.
One of the 49ers' top options is Billy Cundiff, a 10-year player who worked out in Santa Clara alongside Kaeding. Cundiff missed a last-second, game-tying, 32-yard field goal for the Ravens against the Patriots last year in the AFC Championship game. He also struggled earlier this year - 7-12 on field-goal attempts - for the Redskins and was released.
The 49ers also are bringing in left-footed kicker Justin Medlock, a Bay Area native who played in the Canadian Football League and for the Panthers earlier this year. He began the NFL season 7-7 on field goals but missed his last three, and Carolina replaced him with Graham Gano.
The two options illustrate the 49ers dilemma: Cundiff has experience but is best known for a playoff miss. Medlock, 29, has potential but little experience.
"We want to make the right decision," Harbaugh said. "David's certainly in it. He's done a lot of great things for us. He's made a lot of great kicks, a lot of big kicks. And he knows it, we know it, those kicks in the games -- you've got to make those kicks. There will always be a level of competition around at any position to find who gives you the best chance to win the next game. Knowing the competitor that Dave is, I don't think he'll have a problem with that."
A year ago, Akers made an NFL-record 44 field goals and was a major component of the 49ers' winning formula. Earlier this year, he landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after making a 63-yard attempt just before the half in Green Bay.
But he's had far fewer attempts from close range this year compared to last. And he's been terrible - 9 for 19 -- from 40 yards and beyond. Akers finished the season with a 69 percent accuracy rate, the worst of his career and the 30th best of any full-time kicker this season.
"Kickers go through, at times, slumps," Harbaugh said. "They'll go through it and maybe come out of it quickly. Sometimes it lingers a little bit. But have I been surprised that (Akers) hasn't made those kicks? Yeah, we understand that's the job of the kicker - put it through the uprights."
-- Matt Barrows