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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time marches on, but 49ers’ Phil Dawson just keeps kicking





By Eric Branch

November 18, 2014

San Francisco 49ers' kicker Phil Dawson signals first down after the Kansas City Chiefs' were called for too many men on the field on a fourth down during Niners' 22-17 win during NFL game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Sunday, October 5, 2014.

After 13 productive years in the NFL, David Akers’ second season with the 49ers in 2012 was a disaster: The six-time Pro Bowler missed an NFL-high 13 field-goal attempts and was released in the offseason.

Fortunately for the 49ers, recent history isn’t repeating itself.

After 15 productive years in the NFL, Phil Dawson’s second season with the 49ers in 2014 has been, well, much like the others preceding it: The 10th-most accurate kicker in NFL history (84.4 percent) has made 82.6 percent of his kicks (19 of 23) this season.

At 39, Akers is out of the NFL.

At 39, Dawson is the second-oldest player in the league, behind the Colts’ Adam Vinatieri (41), and is showing signs he could join the Really Old Kickers Club. Morten Andersen (47), Gary Anderson (45), John Carney (45) and Eddie Murray (44) are among those who’ve kicked well into their 40s.

How long does Dawson, who is signed through 2015, envision playing?

“I don’t want to stay around if I’m just another guy,” he said.

That’s not currently an issue for a kicker who, less than three months from his 40th birthday, appears to be pulling away from Father Time.

Consider, for example, that Dawson has made a higher percentage of his kicks (87.3) since turning 36 than he did in his first 12 seasons (83.3). In addition, his right leg apparently has acquired bionic qualities: He has made 22 of 27 of field-goal tries from 50-plus yards since 2011, after opening his career 10 for-19 from that distance.

Asked to account for such long-range excellence at an advanced age, Dawson discusses opportunity. That is, he wasn’t given many chances earlier in his career because he didn’t have a big-leg reputation. In addition, long attempts weren’t advisable late in the season in wintry and wind-swept Cleveland, where he spent his first 14 seasons.

“That helps feed the unproven, maybe-not-the-strongest-leg reputation,” Dawson said. “As I’ve gotten older, and started proving myself, coaches have had a little more confidence, and I’ve had more and more opportunities. For whatever reason, the last couple of years, they’ve just come in bunches. I’ve kicked well over the last couple of years.”

The 49ers would agree. In his debut with the Niners in 2013, he set franchise records for consecutive field goals made (27) and longest postseason kick (49 yards), while ranking second all-time in points (140). This season has been more of the same for Dawson, who has the highest career field-goal percentage among kickers with at least 300 field goals made.

He was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his 5-for-5 performance in a win over Kansas City, and two of his four misses have come from 51 and 55 yards. Another miss, a 45-yard attempt, wasn’t his fault: Some of the linemen failed to block because they didn’t realize a fake field goal had been called off.

Dawson says he welcomes pressure situations, and his work with the 49ers suggests he’s the ice-water-in-his-veins type. He’s 4-for-4 on game-winning attempts with less than one minute left in regulation or in overtime.

His last game-winner, a 35-yarder in a 27-24 overtime win over the Saints on Nov. 9, was the latest evidence that the NFL’s second-oldest man hasn’t lost his nerve.

“If you look even back to high school, I’ve had a knack for making those kinds of kicks,” Dawson said. “I look forward to those. I don’t fear them. It doesn’t mean I’m not stressed out. It doesn’t mean I’m not nervous. But that’s kind of the point at the end of the day, right? All the hard work, all the time and here’s your opportunity to help your team win the game.”

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