KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 31st meeting. The 49ers own a 16-13-1 advantage. San Francisco is one of only six teams that Dallas does not hold a series advantage over, joining Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston, Miami and Oakland. San Francisco has won 9 of the 15 games played in San Francisco. The Cowboys and 49ers have met in six NFC Championship Games, with the winner claiming the Super Bowl title five times - Dallas holds the NFC Championship series advantage 4-2.
2005 RANKINGS: Cowboys: offense 18th (16th rush, 15th pass); defense 20th (16th rush, 19th pass). 49ers: offense 31st (31st rush, 29th pass); defense 32nd (21st rush, 32nd pass).
PREDICTION: Cowboys 23-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: Cowboys coach Bill Parcells stressed the importance of mistake-free football this week, which is especially important against an inferior 49ers team. Parcells will lean heavily on RB Julius Jones and be conservative with the passing game unless San Francisco is able to build a lead. For that to happen, the 49ers must figure out how to improve a running game that is averaging a paltry 2.4 yards per carry. The Cowboys' 3-4 front will test the 49ers' blocking scheme, but more important is for RB Kevan Barlow to take advantage of what holes are created. That would set up the play-action pass and the potential big plays downfield San Francisco will need to keep the game close.
FAST FACTS: Cowboys: QB Drew Bledsoe needs 257 passing yards to pass Joe Montana (40,551) for eighth-most in NFL history. ... Jones has at least 20 carries in all nine career starts. 49ers: Opponents have held the ball an average of 17:20 longer than the 49ers. ... Lead series 16-13-3. ... Seek first 2-0 home start since 1999.
PERSONNEL NEWS: Cowboys:
--QB Drew Bledsoe has 40,295 career passing yards and needs 257 to pass Johnny Unitas (40,239) and Joe Montana (40,551) for 8th in NFL history. He has posted a passer rating of 90 or better in each of his first two games.
--RB Julius Jones has 20 or more carries in all nine career starts.
--WR Terry Glenn had six catches for 157 yards and a touchdown last week, his first 150-yard game since posting 154 for Green Bay against Chicago on Oct. 7, 2002. His average of 22.1 yards per catch ranks third in the NFL among players with nine catches.
--DT La'roi Glover needs 1/2 sack for 70 career sacks, third-most among active DTs. Warren Sapp leads with 79 1/2.
--SS Roy Williams is tied for second among NFL defensive backs with 1.5 sacks.
--KR Tyson Thompson ranks second in the NFL with a 31.3 yards per return average.
--TE Eric Johnson was ruled out for the season and placed on injured reserve after re-tearing his right plantar fascia, the tight band of muscle that supports the arch. Johnson had not practiced since Aug. 9 because of the injury.
--TE Trent Smith, who has been inactive for the first two games of the season, might see some action as the 49ers hope to find a pass-receiving threat to replace injured Eric Johnson. Smith spent his first two seasons with the Ravens, where he was injured and never played in a regular-season game. Coach Mike Nolan said he recalled Ravens coaches referred to Smith as a poor man's Todd Heap.
--FB Fred Beasley, a Pro Bowl player two years ago, has fallen out of favor with the new coaching staff. Beasley is in the final year of his contract and almost certainly will not return next season. Beasley has started to see free-agent pickup Chris Hetherington take some of his playing time.
--T Anthony Clement, signed on Monday as a free agent, will likely be in uniform and may serve as the backup at both tackle positions for the 49ers' game Sunday against the Cowboys.
--C Jeremy Newberry did not practice Thursday and is now listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Cowboys, but the 49ers still expect him to suit up and start. Newberry has a chronic right knee problem and is scheduled to practice just one day a week.
--WR Brandon Lloyd (ankle) returned to practice and is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Cowboys.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
49ers linebacker Julian Peterson has been the talk of the Cowboys locker room after guaranteeing a victory over Dallas in Sunday's game.
"You can say I guaranteed it, yes," Peterson said. "I think we're going to play well. I'm positive we're going to win. We're going to go out there to win or they're coming here to lose."
49ers coach Mike Nolan tried to downplay Peterson's comments, saying they were taken out of context.
"As we all know, there are no guarantees in this life, but if someone makes one you say, 'Well, that's good. I'm glad he's confident,' " Nolan said.
Still, Peterson's words are plastered on a bulletin board outside the Cowboys locker room.
They certainly have the Cowboys' attention.
"We'll see," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "We're going to show up and play the game anyway."
It's a new system implemented by new coaches with different players from a year ago at seven offensive positions. And now the 49ers offense has received another blow with news that tight end Eric Johnson is out for the season with a foot injury.
Johnson re-tore the plantar fascia muscle at the bottom of his right foot while testing it earlier this week. Johnson, who led the 49ers with 82 catches last season, will miss his second full season in the past three years.
"It is real frustrating," Johnson said. "I can't believe it came on this quick. On Monday I felt a new energy, and I was so fired up to play. To have this happen so suddenly is really disappointing."
The 49ers' offense has been without Johnson since Aug. 9, and his absence has had an impact. Niners offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy compares it to his first year as offensive coordinator of the Saints. His club lost three of its first four games in 2000 before turning it around. Over the final 12 games, the Saints averaged 24.9 points, and McCarthy was hailed as a great offensive mind.
"I'm anticipating the same kind of progress here," McCarthy said of the 49ers. "It might not happen as dramatically as 2000, but the most important thing is to keep pushing forward and for everybody to believe in what we're doing."
The 49ers own the 31st-ranked offense, and are at or near the bottom in virtually every offensive statistic. Their 20 first downs are the fewest in the league, including just two rushing.
"The one glaring statistic we need to improve on is third-down production," McCarthy said. "The most important statistic in running the ball is how many attempts. We need to be up in the 25s and 30s, moving the sticks and getting rid of the three-and-outs."
The 49ers have converted on just four of 19 third-down attempts (21.1 percent), and they have produced one or fewer first downs on 16 of their 21 drives this season in the games against the Rams and Eagles. The 49ers defeated the Rams 28-25, but lost to the Eagles 42-3.
"I think we're getting there, but last week didn't show it," 49ers receiver Arnaz Battle said. "We have a new system and a lot of players in new positions, but I think we're getting close. We just need to get 11 guys on the same page."
All but one of the 49ers' 26 pass completions have gone to a wideout or halfback. Steve Bush has the other reception, a 3-yarder against the Eagles. On that play, he lined up at tight end and went into motion, ending up as a fullback.
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