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Harbaugh goes with Cundiff after seeing enough of Akers' struggles

The SportsXchange

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh finally saw enough.

David Akers, he of six Pro Bowl appearances and fresh off an NFL record for field goals in a season (44), missed one too many times. Really 13 too many times for Harbaugh's liking, but Akers' historically bad season hit a breaking point on Sunday with a pair of misses, which were categorically different than most of his others. His missed attempts from 44 and 40 yards weren't just misses, they were softly hit pop-ups.

Akers had been off for most of the season, but he'd still been striking the ball well, just missing wide. If it were baseball, Akers would have been hitting foul-ball home runs. Against Arizona, he was popping it up in the infield and that was why Harbaugh, and general manager Trent Baalke, decided to bring in Billy Cundiff.

The same Billy Cundiff that was cut by Harbaugh's brother at the end of training camp then again a few weeks later after converting on just seven of 12 attempts for Washington. The same Billy Cundiff that missed a potential game-tying field goal at the end of the AFC Championship Game last year.

Apparently, that's how little faith Harbaugh has in Akers. Most of the goodwill he acquired in 2011, when he set the franchise record for points, is gone.

Harbaugh tried to come up with a way to explain it, but it this case actions (the signing of Cundiff) speak louder.

"Kickers go through at times slumps. You've seen that and they'll go through it and maybe come out of it quickly. Sometimes it lingers a little bit," Harbaugh said. "But, have I been surprised that he hasn't made those kicks? Yeah, we understand that's the job of the kicker, put it through the uprights. But, understand the difficult nature of the job as well."

To make room for Cundiff on the 53-man roster, journeyman linebacker Eric Bakhtiari, who was on the interview committee when Harbaugh was hired at the University of San Diego, was released. It was the third time since August the 49ers and Bakhtiari parted ways.

Harbaugh anticipated Akers would have no problem with competition, implying the veteran isn't oblivious to the nature of the job.

"He knows it, we know it, those kicks in the games, you've got to make those kicks," Harbaugh said. "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."

If Harbaugh was willing to bench quarterback Alex Smith in good times, finding another kicking option due to Akers' struggles was a no-brainer. The precedent for putting the team over individual loyalties had already been set.
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