BETHLEHEM - David Akers hit it good, so good that even he was a

bit surprised at how far the field-goal

attempt was traveling.

It was the waning seconds of the Dec. 9 game against the New York Giants, and the 57-yard kick had the distance to send the game into overtime.

It was the type of moment that was

going to light the candle on a day that just happened to be Akers' 33rd birthday.

Every Eagles fan knows the story - the ball drifted, doinked against the right

upright and deflected the wrong direction

to the turf at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Giants won, 16-13, and the Eagles dropped to 5-8, virtually guaranteeing they would not make the playoffs.

"I think that's what made it so hard was that I didn't think I'd really get it there," Akers said. "Then when I did get it there and it hit the pole, I'm like, 'Uh, happy birthday.' "

The numbers don't lie, and by the numbers, Akers was not an effective kicker from 40 yards and beyond last season.

He was 1-for-6 on attempts from 40 to 49 yards and 1-for-4 on attempts from 50 and beyond.

But as with a lot of things in professional sports, the numbers don't always tell the entire story.

"Everybody says from over 40 yards he was this for that," Akers said, "and, yeah, I missed some kicks from over 40 yards, but I tried some kicks that a lot of teams wouldn't have even tried - a 59, a 57, a

43 into the wind, a 48 into a driving rain.

"Those things, you'd obviously love to make, but they make your numbers look horrible if you miss them. The one good thing about [Eagles coach Andy Reid] is he's never been a numbers guy with me.

"He just says, 'I'm going to put you out there, and you go kick it.' When you have that, you have confidence when you go out there. I never want to miss. What I'm doing every single day through this whole process is to try to get to the point where I can be perfect. If you're not striving to be perfect, you are going to regress. Ultimately, I hope that pays off with better

results this season."

It's because Akers has been so clutch for the Eagles since he took over as the full-time kicker in 2000 that last season's struggles from long range stood out so much.

Lost in the talk of his misses from

distance is the fact that he was a perfect 22-for-22 on field goals within 40 yards.

Of course, that leads to the question whether a 33-year-old kicker has lost some of the leg strength to make the

longer attempts.

Again, it's not that simple.

"You're going to lose something over the years, there is no question about that," Akers conceded, "but the thing is, other than one kick down [at FedEx Field] against the Redskins, I didn't

have any kicks come up short.

"When you're stroking it, you feel all the confidence in the world. When you start to miss a couple, sure the questions come up, but what you have to do is fight through that. That's what makes the

difference between guys who are good and not so good."

As three trips to the Pro Bowl indicate, Akers has been a very good kicker.

Last season's stumble to 16.7 percent was the first time in his career that he hit less than 55.6 percent on field goals from 40 to 49 yards. He is also 52.4 percent (11 of 21) on career attempts from 50 or more.

Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Akers' range is something that is dealt with on a game-by-game basis.

"Before every game and sometimes

during the game if the weather changes, we will discuss exactly what his range is," Mornhinweg said. "Pregame, coming out at halftime, those kind of things.

"There is no issue there. We just know what we believe his range is in that particular game, and it does change, whether you're indoors, outdoors, or into the wind."

The thing you have to remember about Akers is that not only is he a perfectionist as a kicker, he is also a "precisionist."

Going into a game, he factors in everything from wind conditions to air temperature to turf conditions.

He likes to have a comfortable grip on every aspect of the kicking process.

With that in mind, it is likely that it took some time for Akers to develop a comfort level with punter Sav Rocca, the former Australian Rules Football player who took over as holder last season.

"Obviously, one thing that is totally different now is that last year Sav had never played the game before," Akers said. "He and [long snapper Jon Dorenbos] have had some time working together, and I think we've really been good from the minicamps up until now. We've all

worked really hard this offseason.

"It's one of those things where I feel I've got a little eye of the tiger my own self, right now. I've got something to prove to myself. I don't want any excuses. I just want to be able to go out there and knock it between the poles." *

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