On Sunday, when Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker came up to take the game-winning field-goal attempt, I knew it was going to right down the middle before he even stepped on the field. That got me thinking — why do I not feel the same way about 49ers’ kicker Robbie Gould?
While most were disappointed in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s play call on 4th-and-1 on the Baltimore 35-yard line, I wondered if the 49ers’ decision-maker was forced to go for it based on Robbie Gould’s kicking woes.
The conditions were not ideal on Sunday, but did Gould’s miss earlier in the game affect Shanahan’s thinking ahead of the 4th-and-1 late in the game? The 49ers and Ravens were tied at 17 apiece at that point, and a field goal would have put San Francisco up three points with about 6:28 left to go in the game.
The 49ers’ defense had not given up any points in the second half, and I would have liked their chances in keeping the Ravens’ offense out of the end zone if they were up three points.
With San Francisco sitting at the 35-yard line, that would have made the field-goal attempt about 53 yards — which you see kickers hit these days routinely. Shanahan did not even think twice about kicking the field goal there, especially after Gould had a 51-yard kick blocked to end the first half.
Heading into the postseason, the teams that are usually successful are always formidable and highly dependable in one area — the kicking game. When the room for error narrows between these teams in the playoffs, every point matters, and having a reliable kicker who can make field goals with high accuracy is really important.
Think of teams that typically make deep playoff runs, and you will always be able to remember their kicker. New England with Adam Vinatieri and then Stephen Gostkowski. Baltimore with Justin Tucker. Seattle with Stephen Hauschka. Green Bay with Mason Crosby.
During the 2017-18 seasons in San Francisco, Gould was outstanding hitting field goals, making combined 72-of-75 attempts and only missing three extra-point attempts.
In the offseason, the 49ers placed the franchise tag on Gould, despite his wishes to be in Chicago closer to his family. Eventually, the two sides came to a consensus, signing the former Bears’ kicker to a two-year deal worth $10 million, that had the option to become a four-year deal worth $19 million.
Since signing the large contract, the 37-year old placekicker has not lived up to the mark, missing eight out of 22 attempts and not connecting on a single one of his four attempts greater than 50 yards.
In the last two seasons in San Francisco, Gould never dealt with pressure kicking, as the 49ers were playing in mostly meaningless games. Yet this season, with a heightened sense of importance for each contest, the 49ers’ kicker has not delivered.
Looking back at Gould’s playoff career, he’s only been past the regular season twice — once in 2006 with the Bears and then in 2016 with the Giants.
Gould also missed three games with a quadriceps injury, leading to the 49ers signing kicker Chase McLaughlin, who will be known for his miss in overtime against the Seahawks that cost San Francisco a game.
So can Shanahan depend on Gould in the crunch time when he needs three points out of his kicker? The 49ers are going to be in tight contests in the playoffs and will need to depend on their kicker, but I am starting to lose faith that the 37-year old can consistently hit long field goals when the 49ers need him to.
Given his current salary, Gould is the second-oldest kicker behind Vinatieri, and his game’s trending in the wrong direction. Is the San Francisco front office regretting handing out the large contract to Gould? I think so.