SANTA CLARA -- Jim Harbaugh is opting for the familiar over the mystery, choosing the kicker he knows over the one he does not.
The 49ers coach said Thursday he is sticking with incumbent David Akers, over the recently acquired Billy Cundiff, for the NFC divisional playoff game against Green Bay on Saturday evening at Candlestick Park.
Understand, though, Harbaugh's announcement came after days of observation and evaluation and hours of review and discussion with his staff, as well as general manager Trent Baalke. This choice was the more palatable of two uncomfortable options.
The final decision was left to Harbaugh, the man with the most at stake.
"Suffice it to say we feel confident in David giving us the best chance to win," Harbaugh said after practice.
No doubt there, but plenty of doubt about the ability of Akers, the 38-year-old veteran of six Pro Bowls whose metronomic consistency has steadily declined over the course of this season. Seven of his last 18 kicks have either missed (five) or been blocked (two).
Cundiff was summoned last week to compete with, if not supplant, Akers and could not.
The Decision II -- going with Akers over Cundiff -- does not have nearly the same magnitude or investment significance as The Decision I, Harbaugh's midseason gamble to replace starting quarterback Alex Smith with backup Colin Kaepernick.
If you recall, Smith did nothing to lose his job. To the contrary, he was having a very good season. Harbaugh simply was looking ahead, specifically to the playoffs, where he visualized a more multidimensional offense with Kaepernick, who throws deeper and runs better than Smith.
Though Smith is more experienced and might be more reliable, Kaepernick is more difficult to defend. He also has forged a productive chemistry with the wide receivers that Smith had problems achieving.
The demotion of Smith was cold and ruthless, but there was a rational reason behind it. The only question is whether it was premature. If Saturday's result proves it was, the harshest lights of all will swing toward Harbaugh, the former quarterback who knows the position better than anybody in the building. He'll have to answer for his choice.
Kicking, however, is all about reliability and trust and comfort. Akers, who is having difficulty overcoming double hernia surgery performed in February, has lost a lot of the first, which erodes the latter two. In fact, he did much to lose his job.
Yet Cundiff wasn't impressive enough to take it. Through practices and workouts stretched out over 10 days, he couldn't do what was necessary to allow Harbaugh and Co. to imagine a more reliable kicking game Saturday and perhaps beyond.
"He's done a nice job," Harbaugh said of Cundiff. "David has done a better job and (is) more prepared to give us the best chance to win."
Despite not being 100 percent healthy, Akers dug in to keep his job.
"(He) responded like a football player does," Harbaugh said in peculiar and typically vague fashion.
Here's another reason why this decision is the right one, no matter how uneasy it feels: Any close competition should go to the incumbent. It sends a message to the locker room that there has to be a reason behind a change.
A reason that others can see and, if not understand, at least accept.
This is such a case. You have to believe Akers' teammates were pulling for him, if only because they know how good he can be, how good he was last year.
"We have full confidence in him," safety Donte Whitner said of Akers. "Last year, he had a great year. He's been through a couple injuries this year. But I believe that he'll come out and do a really good job for us.
"He's really headstrong, so he'll be all right. He went through a little down spell in the season, but he'll be all right.'
Harbaugh brought Cundiff in because the 49ers were desperate for a dependable kicker. Cundiff, however, was unemployed precisely because he wasn't dependable enough to suit his prior employers, the Washington Redskins.
Should the 49ers need a field goal to tie or win the game Saturday, who would trust Cundiff any more than they would trust Akers?
So Akers it is. He gets, as Whitner said, "a chance to redeem himself" in January
"If he does it in the playoffs," Whitner said, "I believe that everybody will forget about the misses that he had in the regular season."
Even if the kicker fails, the coach knows any blowback won't be nearly as fierce as that which would come should Kaepernick fail.
Not that Jim Harbaugh spends a hot second concerned about such trivial matters as blowback. A gambler gambles, and he knows not all bets pay off.