Kawakami: What’s going on with Jake Moody? The 49ers’ new roller-coaster ride at kicker

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers have seen the best of rookie kicker Jake Moody in just about every practice of training camp, much to the delight of the entire franchise and especially the head coach. When Moody strikes it, the ball goes high, it goes far and it goes exactly where it’s supposed to.

That’s a kicker you can imagine calmly pounding in a 55-yard attempt in the playoffs, maybe in the cold, maybe to beat a great team. That’s why he’s on the 49ers in the first place.

So what the heck has gone on in the two preseason games so far, including Saturday’s pushed extra-point attempt that sailed wide right? That’s a kicker you can imagine looking pretty shaky in Philadelphia or Dallas lining up for a crucial kick. From any distance.

“It’s frustrating — I don’t want to miss anything, obviously,” Moody said afterward, standing at his locker and ready to answer every question.

He’s clearly under scrutiny. All kickers are. Especially those drafted this high. Especially since he’s replacing supremely reliable veteran Robbie Gould. In the back of everybody’s mind: There’s a sad list of superstar college kickers who were drafted in the first few rounds but looked nothing like their college selves the moment they started kicking in NFL games and soon were washed out of the league.

But the 49ers are committed to Moody, at least going into the regular season. Kyle Shanahan is committed to him because of what he’s seen from Moody in practice and what Moody did at Michigan the past few seasons.

And the heat was turned down a little at the end of this game when Trey Lance drove the 49ers down the field in the final seconds to set up some redemption. Moody was sent back out for a 32-yarder, those remaining at Levi’s Stadium held their breaths a bit, the ball came off his foot not quite perfectly, but it squeezed inside the right upright.

Good. Game over, teammates swarm to congratulate Moody, 49ers win 21-20. Sigh of relief. For now.

“That was my first walk-off game winner that I’ve ever hit,” Moody said. “I had one at Michigan that was, like, 13 seconds left (to beat Illinois last season). So, technically, they could’ve come back and scored. But that was the first walk-off I’ve ever had, so that was pretty cool.”

But it was Moody’s first field goal make in three attempts this preseason. And after the PAT miss on Saturday, he’s 1-for-2 in that category. Not what the 49ers hoped to see from someone they selected with the 99th pick and not what anybody expected after Moody’s rampage through training camp.

In the 49ers’ preseason opener in Las Vegas, Moody missed a 40-yarder wide left then over-corrected and shoved a 58-yard try far right. He also barely squeezed his PAT inside the left upright in that game. On Saturday, none of his kicks looked great, including his kickoffs.

Yes, Shanahan has noticed. But he’s also noticed that Moody doesn’t look shaken up by it, either. And, of course, that Moody made the winner on Saturday, even when he was not at his best.

“I mean, I’d like it to go really high and right down the middle every time,” Shanahan said. “I didn’t see that today. But that’s what he’s working through. He’s had two NFL games to get through it. He was better this week than last week. I can say that it’s been extremely consistent in practice, which is why I don’t worry too much. And I think he’ll keep getting better as he goes.

“But there’s pressure in those situations. And that’s really what he’s got to go through, those pressure moments. It’s cool to generate some of those for him today. A step forward from last week. We’ve just gotta keep going, get him consistent and being the same on game days as he is in practice.”

This was Moody’s first time kicking under live conditions at Levi’s. He and fellow kicker Zane Gonzalez got out there during OTAs months ago just to get a look at the sightlines and feel the wind patterns. But the field has been unavailable throughout camp.

“With all the Taylor Swift concerts and stuff, we haven’t been able to get in there,” Moody said with a smile.

But he said the conditions had little to do with his PAT miss. He said his kicks turn slightly right to left when he hits them well. This one was always headed way too far right because he seemed to ease up on it.

“It just wasn’t a great hit,” Moody said. “That’s what (special teams coach Brian Schneider) was saying, that it didn’t look like me. The word he uses is ‘attack,’ and he said it just didn’t look like I attacked the ball. I was just trying to kick it a little too smooth and then the wind just kind of took it at the end.

“Bad kick. In that situation, I’ve got to attack it a little bit harder and just give it a better shot.”

There’s been a ripple effect from the misses in the first game: When Moody went at the kicks hard, they were pulled too far left. Now that he’s backed off a few times, they’re drifting right and they’re not getting his usual height.

“I wouldn’t say any of them were that clean, honestly,” Moody said. “The last one was, I guess, about as close as I’ve got to a clean ball. It’s just a learning curve, I guess. Just want to make the practices translate to the field.”

Jake, have you ever been through something like this?

“I had a game my junior season during COVID where I went 0-for-3 (against Minnesota in 2020),” Moody said. “And had to figure out what went wrong that game and move on. That was like the last time we kicked that season and fast-forward to the next season, I won the Lou Groza Award (as college’s best kicker). That was about as good as you could bounce back from that.

“It’s not the first time that I’ve gone through it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to bounce back like I did then.”

No doubt, Moody wanted that last kick on Saturday. His teammates wanted it, too. Lance beamed when asked about setting up the moment and then watching Moody knock it in. And Moody probably really needed it.

“I definitely wanted just to kind of wash away the missed extra point from earlier,” Moody said. “Felt good to make that.”

The advice he’s getting, Moody said, is all very simple and all very true.

“Just having the mind of a goldfish is what everybody says — forget about it, move on to the next one,” Moody said. “Because it might be a game winner.”

The 49ers are committed to Moody because they know how talented he is. They know he seems fine mentally. They know it can be a lot better and they know it got a little better on Saturday. And that’s enough for now.

“The TK Show”: Go to Tim Kawakami’s podcast page on Apple, Spotify and The Athletic app.

(Photo of Jake Moody of the 49ers kicking the winning field goal against the Broncos: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images))

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