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Eagles' Akers getting hung up on long-distance kicks

THE FOCUS FOR MANY following the Eagles' 24-20 loss to the Bears on Sunday night was on the decision by coach Andy Reid to send Correll Buckhalter into a horde of humanity to try to gain 18 inches and possibly the team's third win of the season.

THE FOCUS FOR MANY following the Eagles' 24-20 loss to the Bears on Sunday night was on the decision by coach Andy Reid to send Correll Buckhalter into a horde of humanity to try to gain 18 inches and possibly the team's third win of the season.

Running a close second on the conversation chart were the two missed field goals by David Akers, one from 47 yards, the other from 50. Alarmingly, Akers has now made just three of his past 13 attempts from beyond the 40.

He is not ready to panic, however. It's not as if he suddenly has lost his ability to kick, he insists. For example, Sunday's misses were more a case of misreading the wind than not striking the ball well.

"I aimed exactly where they ended up going for the most part," Akers said in a phone interview with reporters. "I thought because of the pretty hard right-to-left wind I aimed at the right pole on the 50-yarder, and maybe just a foot farther than I should have. I needed to hit a higher trajectory ball for it to move. And then when we were setting up for the 47-yarder, Sav [Rocca, his holder] thought I should put it about a foot inside of the upright and it tracked that way the whole way. And then the last 5 yards it kind of fell to the right and it hit the pole. We're talking about 2 feet total to make a difference where we're talking about a victory last night instead of two bad kicks."

Akers, who was 6-for-6 this season before going 2-for-4 Sunday, might have started to become a victim of his own success. Since becoming the full-time kicker in 2000, he has been one of the most accurate in the league. That culminated in 2004, the Super Bowl year, when he drilled 17 field goals of 40 or more yards, which set an NFL record at the time.

A hamstring injury the next season limited his effectiveness from beyond the 40, as he made just six of 11 from that range. He did bounce back in 2006 by nailing six of eight, then was able to hit only two of 10 from 40-plus last season.

So the question lingers. What's wrong with Akers?

Is it leg strength? Confidence? Age (he will be 34 in December)? Or nothing at all.

"Obviously, when we have a chance to make field goals, we need to make field goals," Reid said at yesterday's news conference. Asked if he feels Akers still can be successful, he said: "I do. He needs to make those kicks, but I do feel that way. He goes out before the game and tests the wind out. The wind was blowing towards our bench, and so where he was aiming was closer to the right goal post, the right side of the goal post. That's where he aimed, and the wind didn't blow it back to where it normally blows it back to for him. No excuses for him, but that's what happened.

"I think the leg strength is there. You can see it on his kickoffs. He's kicking the ball off as well as he ever has. For whatever the problem was, it has to get solved, so he and I will work on that."

Those kickoffs aren't coming as frequently after made field goals as they used to. But, like a golfer misreading the line of a putt, Akers feels he isn't that far off.

"I looked at the 50-yarder and it would have been good from over 60, so I don't think [leg] strength is going to be an issue," he said. "Obviously, I'd like to make the longer kicks when necessary and be as reliable as possible for the shorter kicks. Ultimately, I let the organization down by missing those kicks. I've been working hard on it all year. I worked hard this offseason as far as getting myself in the best physical shape that I've ever been in. Working as hard physically with the ball just to able to put it where I want to. [Sunday], instead of thinking of over-40 kicks and leg strength, I actually misread the wind for the most part.

"It's not like you can make them from 39 and then at 41 you're not going to be able to make them. That's not the case. We're talking off a little bit [Sunday]. But in my game, in my position, it's precision-based. It has to be dead-on and you have to be able to hit 'em. If you don't you're out of a job, basically. What it boils down to is if you make the kicks you stay in this league for a while, if you don't you're looking elsewhere. So it's pretty cut and dried."

As was the result on Sunday. Had Akers made one of the two misses, then there wouldn't be any outrage over the call on fourth-and-inches, because the Eagles would have only needed a field goal to take the lead.

But Akers vowed all is well.

"As a player and somebody who takes pride in what he does, it hits you kind of hard," he said. "But the great thing is the sun came up this morning, I've got a healthy family and I'm going to bounce back from it."


Andy Reid

said he expects tight end

L.J. Smith

to get back to practice this week, but isn't sure about running back

Brian Westbrook's

ankle, saying it's a wait-and-see situation. Reid didn't sound as optimistic about guard

Shawn Andrews

, who has been battling back spasms. "It's about the same. He's going to see [a specialist] here this week. We have to find a way to get it better, that's what we have to do. The doctors are optimistic about it." Reid added that surgery is not an option right now . . . The players were given a day off yesterday, as they returned early yesterday morning from Chicago. *