A couple weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers featured three very prominent players on their official Gameday Magazine. It wasn't any of Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman or Justin Smith. It wasn't Mike Iupati or Vernon Davis, or anybody like that. The cover featured, in all of their splendor and glory, kicker David Akers, punter Andy Lee, and long snapper Brian Jennings.
On Sunday, the 49ers offense did come out and perform when they needed to, but just as the last ... oh I don't know ... seven games this season have showed, the 49ers have a great special teams unit to rely on. Andy Lee has had another stellar year and is punting as well as anyone in the league (and really, has been snubbed from the Pro Bowl multiple times over the past few seasons). Many a time has the 49ers offense stalled out, only to have Lee boot one back inside the 20. The field position battle, though punting, returns and turnovers, is a battle that the 49ers have been winning all season long, and it's one of the biggest reasons that the team is 8-1 at this point.
But David Akers ... oh man. Is there anything bad to say about this guy? He puts the kickoffs exactly where he wants it, and you can tell because the 49ers consistently have specific players getting to the returners at specific times, and the guy is absolutely clutch with his field goal kicking. When the 49ers stalled out on Sunday and ended up with a 3rd down and very long to go, the team depended on things like an Alex Smith scramble or a big pass to Braylon Edwards to get them closer to field goal range, and it was Akers who came out with full confidnece from Jim Harbaugh to boot the 52-yarder on one drive. Akers was 4/4 on the day with his field goals, and also had four field goals last week against the Redskins.
He's not giving the 49ers this sense of complacency, either. You won't find any kind of "oh well, we'll just settle for three and play this drive safe." They're going for it with the quiet assurance that incomplete passes and a failure to move beyond the 50-yard field goal mark won't be a problem for Akers. If he's not having a Pro Bowl season (five field goals of more than 50 yards this season), then what defines a Pro Bowl season? He's actually creeping up on Jerry Rice's 49ers franchise record of points scored in a single season. Rice holds the record at 138 points, but through nine games, Akers is on pace for 162 points.
Yeah. 162 points.