49ers will keep counting on Cortez

The knee-jerk reaction – perhaps that should be the foot-jerk reaction – would be for the 49ers to consider making a change at kicker this week. But the team remains resolute behind Jose Cortez, even after his shaky performance in last week's overtime win against the Raiders, and even though they have a high-priced rookie kicker waiting in the wings on their roster.

Cortez could have cost the Niners a victory when he shoved an easy 27-yard field goal attempt wide left on the final play of regulation at Oakland. Luckily for the 49ers, the game was tied at the time, and they proceeded to win the overtime coin toss and march down the field in the extra period to give Cortez a 23-yard chip-shot at redemption.


He didn't miss that one. So his job his safe, because the Niners would rather overlook a few ugly kicks in a crucial situation against Oakland – Cortez also hooked a 39-yard field goal and botched a kickoff that led to the Raiders' final touchdown – and focus on the success he'd been having entering the game.


"He had a pretty tough day at the office," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said.  "But he made one for us early and he made one late that was huge. So he's our kicker. And he's got to know that."


Cortez says he does. Because he redeemed himself by booting the game-winner, it was easy for Cortez to shake off the late miss. He returned to the team facility this week unfazed about the Raiders game – in which he also hit a kickoff out of bounds, giving the Raiders a short field to work with for their final touchdown drive that tied the score – and looking instead toward the future.


"Bad things are going to happen sometimes," Cortez said. "You have to forget about it and have a short memory."


Just the same, Cortez knows he can't let it happen again. The Niners aren't about to mess with the good thing they have going right now by changing kickers at midseason. But if Cortez blows a game-winning chip-shot opportunity any time soon – or worse, contributes to a loss by folding under pressure again – it could be a different situation.


"It's always great when your head coach tells you you're the guy, you're the man, but I know I've got to perform," Cortez said. "You have to look over your shoulder, because Jeff Chandler is still there."


The 49ers gave Chandler, their fourth-round draft choice this year, a $330,000 signing bonus as part of a three-year, $1.24 million deal this summer. That contract essentially guaranteed Chandler a spot on the roster this season, but the Niners were forced to sit his huge salary on the bench when Cortez beat him out.


Then, after a shaky start in the season opener against the New York Giants, Cortez didn't miss a kick over the next six games, making 13 field goals in a row before he missed the 39-yarder in the second quarter against the Raiders.


Everybody shrugged off that miss. But not the next one. Cortez is grateful for the 49ers confidence in him, but with that confidence comes the responsibility that he can't let them down again.



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