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Billy Cundiff practices alongside David Akers

Billy Cundiff practices alongside David Akers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Billy Cundiff, sporting a crisp new white No. 6 jersey, had an impressive first day of practice with the San Francisco 49ers while kicking alongside struggling veteran David Akers as coach Jim Harbaugh closely watched.

Cundiff signed a one-year contract Tuesday with the NFC West champion Niners (11-4-1) to compete with Akers as Harbaugh and his staff determine who will handle the kicking duties for San Francisco in the NFC divisional playoffs Jan. 12 at Candlestick Park.

Akers revealed Thursday not only did he receive death threats last month via Twitter, he also underwent surgery for a double hernia last February and then had a flare-up in November. After a win at New Orleans on Nov. 25, Akers returned to Philadelphia for injections from the doctor who performed his procedure.

``People talk about my demeanor being down, listen, I take my job seriously,'' Akers said. ``I feel when I miss kicks I let the team, the organization, the fans down. I take it personal. I guess sometimes I care too much about it. That's just kind of who I am. I have no problem talking to y'all and being real. It's been disappointing. I'm disappointed in myself. There's nothing I can really do about it now. I can't go back in the past. Try today to get better and figure out why they're not going between the poles. If I had an answer I would have fixed it a long time ago.''

The 32-year-old Cundiff, who 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 last season instead of the Baltimore Ravens, connected from as far out as 55 yards Thursday afternoon while using a portable holder. He was 10 of 12 overall, including 7 for 8 with Andy Lee holding.

Akers went 16 for 21 in an unofficial media count during the open portion of practice.

While Akers and Cundiff went about their jobs with no time for small talk, general manager Trent Baalke briefly chatted with Cundiff as the newcomer walked down the field to work on kickoffs. At one moment, Harbaugh walked nearly a full field to shag footballs under the uprights.

Akers and Cundiff know each other well, having played for the same coach and been in the 2010 Pro Bowl together.

Neither kicker knows what's next, or when he might learn who has won the job - if anybody, that is. Harbaugh might go into next weekend's game without having named a starter.

``For me, it has been laid out very clearly,'' Cundiff said. ``It's, go out and practice well. Don't worry about anything else. Just give us your best. It's the head coach's decision, management's decision, on who's going to kick. So, I'm not going to worry about anything else. I'm just going to go out there and try to have the best practices I can.''

Akers twice missed wide right from 43 yards and again on a 48-yard try, while also coming up short from 52 and 53 yards.

For a franchise determined to take the next step and reach this year's Super Bowl after coming so close last season, Harbaugh is serious about finding a kicker he can count on - even if his choice of Cundiff is puzzling to some who remember his devastating miss for Harbaugh's big brother, John, and the Ravens a year ago.

Yet Cundiff tried out once in late November and again this week, and got his chance. He had seven tryouts in all over the recent months before landing his new job at last.

Akers, who made 44 of 52 attempts in his sensational 2011 season, is just 29 for 42 this year. The six-time Pro Bowler and 15-year veteran is only 7 for 13 from 40-49 yards. He did connect from 63 yards in a season-opening win at Green Bay when the ball bounced off the crossbar in through the uprights.

He missed overtime kicks twice against the Rams this season, with the 49ers losing at St. Louis and tying at home.

``I would definitely give that 63-yarder back to make the two kicks against St. Louis,'' Akers said.

The 38-year-old Akers signed a three-year contract as arguably the 49ers' biggest offseason acquisition ahead of the 2011 season aside from the hiring of Harbaugh. And he delivered at nearly every opportunity - until recently.

He also had a 21-yard attempt blocked by Red Bryant in a 42-13 loss at Seattle on Dec. 23, and Richard Sherman returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. Yet Akers has made at least one field goal in 33 consecutive games, the second-longest such streak in NFL history.

Cundiff was released by the Washington Redskins on Oct. 9 after missing 5 of his 12 field goal attempts. The journeyman Cundiff joins his sixth team in 10 NFL seasons. He has also played for Dallas, New Orleans and Cleveland.

He has stayed ready week after week by counting down the NFL season on a whiteboard in his garage, where he works out.

``I was always mentally prepared for whatever situation was going to happen. I've been doing this for a while now,'' Cundiff said.

He can certainly relate to some of what Akers is going through.

``Well, everyone deals with it a little different. It's tough,'' Cundiff said. ``As my wife and I have talked about, things are a little different when you're in the fire. It's tough to find the right perspective that you normally get in the offseason.''

Notes: Defensive lineman Justin Smith practiced with a brace over his injured left arm as he recovers from a partially torn triceps muscle that sidelined him for the final two regular-season games. ``You just go out there and play `til you can't and be ready,'' Smith said. ``I feel like I'll be ready.''

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

A glance at the NFL over the final two months of the season gave an interesting glimpse where the league was headed. 

The Ravens, the NFL’s best offense, were a predominantly rushing team. They rushed for a league record 3,296 yards in the regular season and were the league’s top regular season team. 

The Titans rode running back Derrick Henry all season, which led to him finishing as the league’s leading rusher. Over the final nine games he rushed for an average of 24.6 carries per game, including 30 or more carries in three of the team’s final four games. 

And most recently, the 49ers won the NFC in dominating fashion over the Packers with just eight passing attempts and 42 rushing attempts. 

With a handful of the league’s best rushing teams advancing in the playoffs, there appeared to be a change in the way teams attacked defenses in the NFL.

But those stats have been a bit misleading for the crowd that wants to establish the run for the sake of establishing a ground attack. What the Ravens and Titans did was make rushing the football more efficient than any other team in the league. 

Baltimore rushed for 5.5 yards per carry in the regular season, half-a-yard more than any other team in the league. They were only one of three teams to surpass the five yard-mark — one other team was the Titans. 

When compared to passing stats across the league, however, none of the qualified quarterbacks had worse than a six-yard average when passing the ball. Speaking strictly from the numbers, passing is still more advantageous than rushing the ball, no matter what teams that advanced far in the playoffs accomplished. 

What the Ravens and Titans do have, however, are two athletes that are unique in the NFL. Lamar Jackson was the league’s best rushing quarterback of all time and Henry led the league in total rushing yards. 

So the Ravens and Titans didn’t reinvent the wheel and show the NFL the ground game was more effective, but instead showed the league to lean into the special talents that both teams had. 

While the Titans were clearly better when Henry had his best days on the ground, there’s not a direct relationship to more Henry touches equaling a better day for the Titans. 

When the Ravens fell behind 14-0 to the Titans, Henry had just seven rushes for 28 yards on the ground. Down the stretch, he rushed 23 more times for 167 yards — a 7.26 yard average. Essentially, the Titans used Henry most effectively when they had already scored the winning points. 

The same can be said for the 49ers in the NFC Championship, who barely used Jimmy Garoppolo's arm. But when Raheem Mostert averages more than seven yards per carry, it’s difficult to get away from the run. 

So while it might seem that simply running the ball got teams to the playoffs, and championship games, it was the fact that they were able to run the ball more efficiently than other teams across the league. Rushing attempts weren’t the reason those teams won, but how they used those rushing attempts instead.

And when Jackson and Henry are leading the charge, it’s hard not to give them the ball.

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

Former Ravens and Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced his retirement from coaching Monday afternoon, just a day after Tennessee lost in the AFC Championship Game to Kansas City.

Pees, at age 70, had just finished his 47th year of coaching. He had previously been a coordinator for the Titans, Ravens and Patriots at the NFL level. He began coaching at the University of Findlay (OH) in 1979 as a defensive coordinator where he rose through the college ranks. 

Pees was in Baltimore from 2010-2017, where he started as a linebackers coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012. He won Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens.

During his time as a coordinator, the Ravens ranked in the top 10 of scoring defenses three times, where he saw franchise greats like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed end their careers.

Pees’ defense in Tennessee this season stiffened down the stretch, as it allowed just 25 total points in the first two playoff games against New England and Baltimore. The Titans lost 35-24 to the Chiefs on Sunday.

In 10 of his 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, Pees led his defenses to a top 12 finish in points allowed.

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