Akers in toe-to-toe battle

ASSOCIATED PRESS Billy Cundiff, kicking for Washington earlier this season, signed with 49ers to compete for slumping David Akers' job.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Billy Cundiff, kicking for Washington earlier this season, signed with 49ers to compete for slumping David Akers' job.
Posted: January 02, 2013

THE 49ERS SIGNED kicker Billy Cundiff on Tuesday to compete with struggling veteran David Akers.

"He's thrilled with the opportunity to be in a position to help the team in any way he can this postseason," said Cundiff's agent, Paul Sheehy. "It's a great opportunity, with a great organization."

The team announced the move a day after coach Jim Harbaugh said that the NFC West champion Niners (11-4-1) - off this week as the NFC's No. 2 seed - planned to try out kickers because of Akers' prolonged funk.

Cundiff was released by Washington on Oct. 9 after missing five of his 12 field-goal attempts. He had already worked out once for the Niners on Nov. 27 before they invited him back this time, as Harbaugh initially chose to stick with Akers, the longtime Eagle.

Now, Akers, 38, and Cundiff, 32, will compete to see who kicks in the team's NFC divisional playoff game in prime time Jan. 12 at San Francisco. The Niners will play Green Bay, Seattle or Washington.

The 49ers cleared a spot on the 53-man roster for Cundiff by waiving linebacker Eric Bakhtiari. Players had Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off before returning to practice Thursday - so that will be the first look at both kickers together.

Cundiff spent the 2009-11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, who are coached by Harbaugh's big brother, John. But Cundiff was cut after last season, when he missed a potential tying 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the AFC Championship Game that sent New England to the Super Bowl.

Jim Harbaugh said Monday he might keep two kickers on the roster and open up a competition.

"If we had two on the roster at the same time, then they can kick in practice," Harbaugh said. "And that's an option. That's a possibility. I think there are three options. We go forward with David. 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."

Akers, who made 44 of 52 attempts in his sensational 2011, is just 29-for-42 this year. He is only 7-for-13 from 40-49 yards and missed wide left twice from that range in Sunday's 27-13 victory against Arizona in the regular-season finale.

Noteworthy * 

Green Bay defensive back Charles Woodson has been cleared to play in Saturday night's playoff game against Minnesota. Woodson has been out with a broken collarbone sustained Oct. 21.

* Buffalo Bills CEO Russ Brandon was named team president, giving him full control of the franchise's day-to-day operations. He will report directly to team owner Ralph Wilson, after assuming the title previously held by the 94-year-old owner. The transfer of power was made Monday, when Brandon met with Wilson at the owner's home in suburban Detroit.

Wilson, the franchise's founder, has only once before given up the title of president. That was in 2001, when he hired Tom Donahoe to also serve as general manager. Donahoe was fired after the 2005 season, at which point Wilson took back the title and said he had no plan to ever give it up again.

* Chicago general manager Phil Emery said he fired coach Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season because the Bears had missed the playoffs for the fifth time in 6 years and had too many problems on offense, going through four offensive coordinators in his nine seasons. Among the expected candidates to succeed Smith are Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and Atlanta special-teams coach Keith Armstrong.

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