Yip, yip, hooray? 49ers appear to have decided edge on Dallas in one area

David Akers’ emotions swung from empathy to irritation Monday night as he watched Dallas kicker Brett Maher’s historically inaccurate performance in a wild-card win at Tampa Bay.

Akers, 48, a six-time Pro Bowl kicker who spent two of his 16 NFL seasons with the San Francisco 49ers , initially felt awful for Maher, who did something no kicker had done in at least 91 years. Akers then was irked by the countless social-media calls for Maher to be canned after missing his first four extra-point attempts.

“You watch a relief pitcher and he goes out and he’s just off,” Akers said. “He was just off. Uncharacteristically off for him. I’ve read, ‘Oh, he should have been fired.’ I mean, look at what he’s done. The guy’s a stud.”

The question of whether Maher, reliable during the regular season, is now a liability has become an unexpected story line before the Cowboys visit the 49ers on Sunday in a divisional-playoff game in which the 49ers could have a special-teams edge.

And that should sound familiar. Last year, the 49ers beat the Packers 13-10 in the divisional round with a late-game special-teams play that, in some ways, was foreshadowed before kickoff: Jordan Willis blocked a punt that Talanoa Hufanga returned for a game-tying touchdown, the last in a laundry list of breakdowns by Green Bay’s special teams in the 2021 season that led to the firing of their coordinator.

“It shows the importance of special teams,” said linebacker Oren Burks, a core special-teams player who had the same role last season with the Packers. “I feel like it’s an afterthought most of the year. But in those big games, you really see how it makes such a difference.”

A year later, the difference Sunday could be kickers who are trending in opposite directions.

The 49ers will arrive with Robbie Gould, who has made 25 of 25 field-goal attempts in the postseason in his 18-season career and is 37-for-37 on extra points. Gould has the most made field goals without a miss in NFL playoff history.

The Cowboys likely will roll with Maher, who just became the first kicker to miss four extra points in a game since at least 1932 and is 1-for-6 on extra-point tries dating to the Cowboys’ regular-season finale.

Maher’s wild-card struggles gave All-Pro pass rusher Nick Bosa a deeper appreciation for Gould, who ranks eighth in NFL history in field-goal percentage.

“It’s awesome — I have just unbelievable confidence in him,” Bosa said. “That was pretty wild (Monday). You usually don’t see guys just completely get the yips like that. It does show how tough that position is, even for a short kick like that.”

Can Maher, 33, quickly return to form after making 29 of 32 field-goal tries, including 9 of 11 from 50-plus yards, and 50 of 53 extra-point tries in the regular season?

Akers thinks Maher’s track record suggests he has the mental toughness required to overcome his career nadir. Because of early career struggles, Maher, the only kicker in NFL history with four field goals of 60-plus yards, has spent time with seven teams and is on this third stint with the Cowboys. Dallas didn’t retain Maher after he made just 20 of 30 field-goal attempts in 2019. However, he has made 45 of 50 tries over the past two regular seasons.

Maher has endured, meaning he likely has the easier-said-than-done ability to block out outside noise and internal demons.

“You get out there and it’s like, ‘Oh, the footing feels a little weird,’” Akers said. “Or, ‘The wind is coming over here. My last swing in the net didn’t feel that good.’ You can freak yourself out to all that. Or you can go, ‘I’ve got to just get through the ball and bang it.’”

Akers can roughly relate to Maher’s situation. In 2012, after undergoing offseason core-muscle surgery, Akers aggravated his injury during the season and made a career-worst 69% of his attempts (29 of 42). The 49ers held kicker tryouts before their first playoff game, Akers kept his job and improved in the postseason, making 4 of 5 attempts.

It appears Maher will get a chance to have a similar about-face. Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy and owner Jerry Jones have voiced their support, although Dallas does have a Plan B in case of Maher’s issues continue this week in practice. The Cowboys on Wednesday signed kicker Tristan Vizcaino to their practice squad.

Can Maher, if necessary, really recover from his ignominious evening and make a late-game kick with the season in the balance?

“That’s the job,” Akers said. “My teammates would say, ‘Ake, you’ve got the best job Monday to Saturday, but we wouldn’t want to ever step in your cleats on Sunday.’ And I’d tend to agree with them on that.”

Eric Branch covers the 49ers for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: ebranch@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Eric_Branch