Confident Cortez gives Niners reason to believe

Jose Cortez drilled a 45-yard field goal last week against Arizona, and almost nobody noticed. Because he has quietly and efficiently done his job this season, Cortez has slipped under the radar of pressing concerns facing the 49ers and their quest to rise to the top of the NFC. But everybody should take note of what that field goal represented for the Niners' second-year kicker: It was his longest of the season, and 12th in a row, setting a new career high for consecutive kicks made.

"Right now, I feel I'm kicking as well as ever," Cortez told SFI.

A shaky commodity entering the season, Cortez has suddenly become Mr. Reliable for the Niners. And that confidence exudes from the native of El Salvador.

"I'm going into the games with a lot of confidence," Cortez said. "I'm just relaxed and just kicking the ball right now. I'm just thinking about going there and taking advantage of every field-goal attempt."

That's exactly what Cortez has done since missing two of his first three field-goal attempts of the season in San Francisco's Sept. 5 opener against the New York Giants. Cortez has been a perfect 12-for-12 since, and that has contributed a calming influence to a team that has other issues to worry about at midseason.

Cortez's 45-yarder last week was almost an afterthought while the Niners were rolling to a 31-7 halftime lead. But it topped his string of 11 successful kicks to begin last season, and also was the longest kick Cortez had attempted since missing a 48-yarder against the Giants.

"I think he's confident," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "I think he's better than last year. He shows that in practice each day. And he's been consistent in the games."

Cortez had to be better to beat out fourth-round draft pick Jeff Chandler in the preseason, and also keep his job with the Niners, who have kept Chandler on the roster, just in case. But with a fresh leg, and having worked out his problems of kicking the ground - which was causing a low projectile on some of his kicks - Cortez has turned an area of possible weakness entering the season into a strength.

"We believe in him," Mariucci said.

Said Cortez, "I can see that, and I can feel that, that they have confidence in me, you know, that if we've got to kick a field goal, we'll go for it, we'll go ahead and kick it. That just makes you feel a lot better and just makes your confidence go higher."



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