Game snapshot: 49ers vs. Bills

Taking a close look inside Sunday's game between the 49ers and Buffalo Bills at San Francisco's Monster Park.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:05 Pacific

SURFACE: Grass

TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Steve Tasker

SERIES: Ninth meeting, series is tied 4-4. The teams last met in 2001 when the 49ers came away with a 35-0 victory at 3ComPark in early December. The Bills would go on to finish 3-13 in coach Gregg Williams' rookie season. It was one of Buffalo's worst losses in franchise history, with San Francisco holding a 409-191 edge in yardage, a whopping 230-29 on the ground. The last Buffalo victory at San Francisco was a wild 34-31 affair on Sept. 13, 1992, when Jim Kelly and Steve Young put on an aerial circus. Each threw for more than 400 yards in the only game in NFL history without a punt.

2004 RANKINGS: Bills: offense 26th (18th rush, 26th pass); defense 3rd (4th rush, 3rd pass). 49ers: offense 24th (30th rush, 20th pass); defense 16th (13th rush, 18th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bills are expected to be without RB Willis McGahee and are holding out hope Travis Henry will be healthy enough to carry the load in his place. McGahee has been the motor behind the offense's resurgence, but they can get by without him as long as they protect the ball and don't do the 49ers any favors. San Francisco will struggle to score against the league's third-best defense. The Bills are equally strong against the run and pass, and will have a big advantage over the 49ers' porous offensive line. That's a big reason why RB Kevan Barlow will regain his starting job over 205-pound Maurice Hicks, who has trouble holding up in blitz protection. QB Ken Dorsey has shown improved skills, but he gets precious little time to throw the ball and is prone to interceptions when under pressure.

FAST FACTS: Bills: WR Lee Evans has tied Elbert Dubenion's team rookie record of seven touchdown receptions set in 1960. ... Offense has scored at least 30 points in a team-record five consecutive games. 49ers: TE Eric Johnson has broken Brent Jones' single-season team records for tight ends with 77 receptions for 780 yards. ... Are 14-5 (.737) at home against the AFC in the past 10 seasons.

PERSONNEL NEWS

BILLS

--- LS Jon Dorenbos was placed on IR this week with a knee injury suffered while covering a kick against Cleveland. Dorenbos, a former college linebacker, wasn't afraid to get involved in the action after hiking the ball and he's not likely to change his style after being injured. Providing how veteran Bradford Banta, signed last week to take his place on the roster, performs the rest of this year, Dorenbos may have to fight for his job back in training camp next year.

--- QB Drew Bledsoe's current rating of 76.9 is a lot better than a year ago, when he finished at 73.0, his worst mark since 1995. One concern, however, is Bledsoe's continued downward spiral in the area of accuracy. His completion percentage of 56.4 is worse that last year's 58.2 heading into Sunday's game.

--- RB Willis McGahee, who has a bruised and hyper-extended right knee, will likely be a game-time decision for Sunday's game. McGahee sounded like he wants to give it a try. "I know I've got to contribute," he said when asked if it was important that he play for the Bills, who need to keep winning to make the playoffs.

--- RB Travis Henry, who has missed three games, suffered torn ligaments in his left ankle against Seattle. Henry made the revelation on Wednesday; previously, he's been unavailable for comment and the Bills have been vague about his injury. "I tore some ligaments in my ankle, a couple ligaments. It isn't my leg," said Henry, who was first diagnosed with a fractured lower leg. Henry ruled himself out for Sunday's game but he does hope to be ready should the Bills (8-6) make the playoffs. "I'm ready to get back out there on the field, it's been a while," Henry said. "I've got a couple of more weeks. We've got a pretty good chance of making the playoffs, and we'll see how it goes."

--- FB Daimon Shelton, who was out of football last season and was signed as a free agent, has made a nice comeback with the Bills. The former Chicago Bear has helped RB Willis McGahee close in on 1,000 yards and he's also caught 15 passes for 106 yards. Shelton was mentioned as a Pro Bowl candidate for the Bills. "That's huge in itself, just to be mentioned in same sentence as the Pro Bowl," he said.

49ERS

--- QB Tim Rattay is scheduled to undergo surgery on his forearm next week. Rattay will not play again this season because of a foot injury, but he also battled a forearm strain since the beginning of training camp. Rattay was limited to just nine games this season.

--- LG Eric Heitmann was limited in practice Thursday with a left ankle sprain. Heitmann has been one of the bright spots on the team's offensive line. He is the only player on the team who has not missed a snap from scrimmage this season.

--- WR/PR Arnaz Battle tried to do some running at practice Thursday but was not able to go full speed. It does not appear as if he'll be able to play Sunday against the Bills. Battle is the team's best special-teams performer and was selected as a third alternate for the NFC Pro Bowl team.

--- RB Maurice Hicks will be used as Kevan Barlow's backup against the Bills. Hicks will also be used as the team's primary kickoff returner. He has averaged 22.1 yards on his 21 kickoff returns this season.

--- RG Kyle Kosier will make his sixth start of the season at right guard. He started nine games earlier this season at left tackle. Kosier could also be used at left guard if Eric Heitmann continues to be bothered by a left ankle injury.

--- QB Ken Dorsey will be up against the league's No. 3 defense when the 49ers face the Bills. Dorsey will start his sixth game. He has completed 53.5 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and eight interceptions. Dorsey's passer rating is 59.7, which ranks lower than any of the 33 qualifying quarterbacks.

--- DE John Engelberger leads the team with five sacks. The lowest sack total to lead the 49ers in a non-strike season is 6.5, which Andre Carter recorded in 2001. The sack became an official statistic in 1971.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

BILLS

The Bills were pleased about placing three players on the AFC's Pro Bowl squad but as is often the case in all-star game voting, there was more displeasure voiced for those who didn't make it.

Linebacker Takeo Spikes, defensive tackle Sam Adams and kick return specialist Terrence McGee were selected to play in the Pro Bowl Feb. 13 in Honolulu. But coach Mike Mularkey said he felt linebacker London Fletcher, fullback Daimon Shelton and punter Brian Moorman should've been voted onto the squad as well. Fans, players and coaches vote for the Pro Bowl.

"I addressed this before the results came out at the team meeting," Mularkey said.

"There's a number of guys on our team who I felt should have been recognized. Brian certainly was one based on his performance and the conditions he has to punt in, and not strictly at home. He's been the most consistent punter I've been around. London Fletcher, Daimon Shelton ... I watch a lot of tape so obviously I'm prejudiced but I also compare and I find it hard to believe they're not in it. But that happens every single year and will continue to happen with the way things work ... so I'm disappointed for them."

While the Bills have a good beef concerning Moorman, Fletcher and Shelton, the players selected ahead of them are impossible to knock and other teams can make similar cases for their people.

Moorman is fourth in the AFC in punting with a 43.2 average, a 38.4 net, with 15 punts dropped inside the 20. The AFC's Pro Bowl selection is Oakland's Shane Lechler, who leads the NFL with a 47.6 average, 37.6 net and 19 balls inside the 20. But San Diego's Mike Scifres has had a strong season, too, averaging 42.9 yards but leading the conference with a 38.4 net with 27 punts inside the 20.

"I'd have to be fortunate to make it because my numbers aren't quite where other guy's numbers are around the league," said Moorman, who has been a Pro Bowl alternate in the past.

"I'm pleased with how the season has gone, considering the weather we've had. ... Obviously, I'd love to have the bid. I'd love to go. That's everybody's ultimate individual goal. But we've got greater things going as a team. If we make the playoffs, that would definitely put a band-aid over the fact of not making the Pro Bowl."

Fletcher, who has solid numbers at middle linebacker with 125 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, was passed over for seven-time pick Ray Lewis (133 tackles) of Baltimore and James Farrior (82 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) of Pittsburgh. Farrior plays on the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense and the Steelers are 13-1.

Shelton, who was out of football for a year and signed with Buffalo as a free agent, has been a solid lead blocker for Willis McGahee. Kansas City's Tony Richardson, however, has helped power the NFL's No. 1-ranked offense, opening holes for Priest Holmes and Derrick Blaylock who have combined for nearly 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns.

49ERS

While the 49ers dismantled their offense in the offseason, they made it a priority to keep their defense together.

The 49ers might have brought back most of their defensive players from 2003, but you wouldn't know it by looking at their depth chart today. The 49ers have placed five defensive starters on injured reserve and a sixth, linebacker Jamie Winborn, will miss the final two games of the season with a broken right shoulder blade.

The 49ers play the Bills on Sunday at Monster Park, and they'll have a defense on the field that includes such starters as Andrew Williams at defensive end, Saleem Rasheed at linebacker, and cornerbacks Dwaine Carpenter and rookie Shawntae Spencer.

"It sure hasn't helped us," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said of the team's injuries on defense. "And if you really look at it, a lot of them haven't been playing for a long time. You take a look at those five players (on injured reserve) and you ask, when have they played?"

Defensive end Andre Carter underwent surgery on Wednesday after missing his seventh game of the season last Saturday against the Redskins with a back condition.

Linebacker Julian Peterson played in just five games before sustaining a season-ending torn left Achilles' tendon. Cornerback Mike Rumph played in two games before breaking his right forearm.

Defensive end Brandon Whiting tore his ACL in his fifth game, and cornerback Ahmed Plummer made it through six games before seeing his season come to an end because of a bulging disc in his neck.


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