KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Phil Simms
SERIES: 16th meeting. The Browns lead 9-6. This is the first meeting since the Browns' 23-13 victory in 1993, and it's the first game the 49ers have played against the new Browns, who came back into the league in 1999.
2003 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 31st (24th rush, 27th pass); defense 22nd (32nd rush, 3rd pass). 49ers: offense 2nd (4th rush, 9th pass); defense 1st (4th rush, 4th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: With the Browns allowing 205 rushing yards per game, they'll have a mighty challenge against the 49ers duo of Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow. San Francisco has several banged up offensive linemen, but if the line holds up, QB Jeff Garcia could have a big day. Cleveland will be geared up to stop the run, but the Browns don't have the personnel to hang with WR Terrell Owens without help on the outside. Teams have been concentrating on taking the long pass away from Browns QB Kelly Holcomb. He needs help from the running game and better pass blocking from struggling LG Melvin Fowler.
FAST FACTS: Browns: The team has won five of its past six road games. ... The 2,175-mile flight marks the team's longest road trip of the season. 49ers: QB Jeff Garcia is one touchdown pass shy of becoming the fifth quarterback in team history with 100 for his career. ... WR Terrell Owens needs two touchdown receptions to join Jerry Rice as the only players in team history with 75. ... The team has won 14 of its past 15 games when rushing for at least 150 yards.
PREDICTED SCORE: 49ers 27-24
--LT Barry Stokes is listed as probable with a sprained right ankle. He called it a 'medium high' sprain. He said he'll "rub a little dirt on it" and play against the 49ers Sunday.
--CB Michael Lehan is questionable with a pulled hamstring. So far, he has not shown a high pain tolerance.
--DB Lewis Sanders is probable with a shoulder injury. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday and expects to play Sunday. He is one of the Browns' best special teams players.
--LB Be Taylor is probable with a sore ankle. He practiced and should start his third straight game Sunday.
--LT Derrick Deese (right ankle) did not return to practice Thursday and is not expected to start Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Rookie Kwame Harris has been told that he will start.
--LT Kwame Harris, the team's top draft pick, is expected to start in place of Derrick Deese, who will likely miss his second game with a right ankle sprain.
--CB Jimmy Williams will take over the full-time punt return chores after the club released Arland Bruce. Williams will also continue in his role as the team's nickel back while Rashad Holman recovers from a right groin strain.
--LG Kyle Kosier said he plans to appeal a $2,500 fine for what the league determined was an illegal block on Rams DT Tyoka Jackson. Kosier started the first two games of the season at right guard but switches to LG this week to take over for injured starter Eric Heitmann.
--RT Scott Gragg returned to practice this week and will return
to the starting lineup after sitting out most of the first two games of the
season with a high left ankle sprain.
--WR Tai Streets has proved to be a reliable No. 2 receiver behind Terrell Owens. Through two games, Streets is second on the team with eight catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
--RB Kevan Barlow will continue to share time with starter Garrison Hearst. Barlow has rushed for 107 yards on 26 carries (4.1 average). He is also tied with Hearst for the team lead with nine first downs: seven rushing and two receiving.
--RB Garrison Hearst has strengthened his hold on the starting job through the first two games of the season. Hearst has gained 145 yards on 22 carries (6.6 average). He is tied with Barlow for the team lead with nine first downs: six rushing, three receiving.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
After blaming everybody but himself for the 33-13 loss in Baltimore last week, Kelly Holcomb has done complete turnaround and now says the reason the Browns have scored only one touchdown in two games is he has been impatient.
"You don't want to let these guys in this locker room down," Holcomb said. "Up until this point, I have. It's not easy to look in the mirror and know these guys are working like they've worked and you're doing what you're doing. The coaches have put a lot of faith in me and I've stunk it up."
Holcomb's quarterback rating of 49.4 is the lowest in the AFC. He has thrown one touchdown pass and four interceptions.
Coach Butch Davis had a talk with Holcomb and emphasized patience. He likened taking chances to driving too fast on the freeway.
"He's played well in the past and he wants to play well again," Davis said. "There's a lot you can do to attack Cover 2. It's similar to driving on the interstate. The speed limit says 55. You try to go 70, that's fine and good, but you're going to get caught. You're going to pay the price. You have to be patient, do what you're supposed to do and the rest will take care of itself."
Holcomb threw two interceptions in the Colts game and two in the Ravens' game. He was intercepted 18 yards and nine yards downfield by the Colts. The Ravens picked him off 47 yards and 19 yards downfield.
The 49ers like the strong leg of newly signed kicker Owen Pochman so much so that they're willing to cut him some slack when it comes to his field-goal accuracy.
"There's no question about it," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said.
The 49ers released kicker Jeff Chandler this week, partly because of his field-goal consistency but also because he did not have a strong leg on kickoffs. The 49ers ranked 16th in the league with opponents beginning on average at the 28.1-yard line after kickoffs.
"You know, kicking from the 30, it's just changed over the years," Erickson said. "If you don't get it down there, or if you don't get hang time, they are going to bring that thing out on you. It's such a field position change. That's the biggest from him right now that we're looking for. Obviously we don't want him (Pochman) to miss field goals, we want him to make them, but he has that strong leg."
Pochman, who has never been a team's primary kicker in the NFL, has been looking for such an opportunity since the New England Patriots selected him in the seventh round of the 2000 draft. He has been released by four teams prior to signing this week with the 49ers.
He is the second left-footed kicker in team history. In 1969, the 49ers signed Momcilo Gavric from the University of Belgrade (Hungary) to replace an injured Tommy Davis.
Holder Bill LaFleur has to make the biggest adjustment to a left-footed kicker. He has never held for a lefty before, he said. Now, he has catch the snap from center differently, as well as use different hands to hold the ball and spin it.
"Everything is turned around, so it is something that's going to take a little time to get comfortable," LaFleur said.