The 49ers approach Saturday's NFC playoff game against the Packers with a real problem: they don't know who'll be their placekicker.
Well, maybe they do, but it's not something they're all that sure about. Else, they wouldn't have trooped a bunch of folks up to Candlestick Park on Monday to see rent-a-kicker Billy Cundiff take his first-ever swings at the Niners' home stadium.
How desperate it is it to bring in a guy who's never kicked at the 'Stick and whose missed playoff 32-yarder last year let New England beat Baltimore, ending the Ravens' season and sending the Patriots to the Super Bowl? You make the call. Oh, before you answer: Cundiff is available because he was let go three months ago after missing 5 of 12 field goal attempts for the Redskins.
This has come to pass because incumbent kicker David Akers has gone from Mr. Automatic to WTF?!? Akers nailed an NFL-record-sharing 63-yarder earlier in the season, but fell on hard times later. Akers' misses of makeable field goals in both St. Louis games cost the 49ers a chance to go 13-3 and match Atlanta for best record in the NFC (although I'm pretty sure, after going deep into the NFL playoff tiebreaker rules, the Falcons would still have the top seed).
It may be a while before we know whether Akers hit a career-threatening patch of the "yips" or is suffering deep aftereffects of the double-hernia surgery he went through during the offseason. Akers and the 49ers kept quiet about that until recently; finally acknowledging that he sought followup treatment in November.
Maybe none of this will matter. Since the turn of the century, there have been 52 Divisional Round playoff games, and 10 of those (19.2%) have been settled by a field goal or less. In other words, in most of these games, one field goal made or missed wouldn't have changed the outcome.
So the odds say a kicker won't be the difference-maker on Saturday. But does that really make you comfortable?