TOUGH GAME IN FRISCO

After the most impressive win of the season against the Colts last Monday night, the Dolphins will need a similar effort from its squad when they square off against the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday.<P>The 49ers are coming off a 27-14 loss to NFC West rival St. Louis and will be looking to rebound in a big way.

San Fran is playing excellent football right now and will pose quite a challenge for the Fins, who are traveling across the country after a short week of practice.

What follows is a look at Sunday's game.

WHO: Miami Dolphins (9-3) vs. San Francisco 49ers (9-3)

WHERE: 3Com Park; San Francisco, Calif.

KICKOFF TIME: 4:05 p.m. ET

TELEVISION: CBS

LINE: San Francisco by 3 1/2

COACHES: San Francisco — Steve Mariucci (5th season); Miami — Dave Wannstedt (2nd year with Miami)

SERIES RECORD: The series stands even at this point, 4-4, but Miami has lost the last four meetings.

LAST MEETING: The Dolphins lost that game on Nov. 20, 1995 when Elvis Grbac filled in for an injured Steve Young and racked up 382 yards and four touchdowns in Miami's 44-20 loss. Jerry Rice caught eight passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns in that Monday nightmare for the Dolphins.

INJURIES: Dolphins — RB J.J. Johnson (quad), S Shawn Wooden (hamstring) are questionable; WR Chris Chambers (ribs), QB Jay Fiedler (elbow), DT Jermaine Haley (thumb), WR James McKnight (ribs), G Todd Perry (knee), S Brian Walker (thumb), CB Sam Madison (shoulder), S Scott McGarrahan (knee), OT Todd Wade (knee) are probable.

49ers — TE Greg Clark (hamstring), RB Jonas Lewis (groin), CB Anthony Parker (shoulder) are out; LB Jeff Ulbrich (ankle) is questionable; DE John Engleberger (heel), QB Jeff Garcia (elbow/knee), WR Terrell Owens (hip), S Lance Shulters (ankle) are probable.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Dolphins wide receiver Chris Chambers vs 49ers cornerback Ahmed Plummer — Plummer is by far the 49ers' best corner and is tied for third in the NFL with seven interceptions. Chambers is emerging as one of the biggest playmakers on the offensive side of the ball for Miami. Plummer will be watching the deep outside routes that Chambers loves to run.

Dolphins secondary vs Terrell Owens — This is the second time in as many weeks that the defense has matched up against one of the top recievers in the game. Owens is tied for second in the NFC with 78 receptions and tied for the NFL lead with 13 touchdowns.

Dolphins DE Jason Taylor vs 49ers OL Derrick Deese — QB Jeff Garcia is one dangerous quarterback and the Dolphins will need Taylor to put some pressure on him throughout the day.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL: The 49ers have one of the youngest defenses in the league. Although they have obvious talent, they have been prone to mistakes that come with youth. The Dolphins will try to exploit that with a well-balanced attack, mixing in Lamar Smith with the deep passing game. Don't expect a repeat of the eye-popping 41 points that we saw on Monday night, but Miami should be able to move the ball effectively and have chances to get in the end zone.

WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL: The effective 49ers West Coast offense has returned as Garrison Hearst is running well once again and Jeff Garcia is simply another excellent Pro Bowl quarterback in a 49ers uniform. Terrell Owens is the sparkplug of this offense, though, and getting him the ball is always priority number one for San Fran.

BOTTOM LINE: This should turn out to be a great game between two of the better teams in the league. The Dolphins must overcome fatigue after a short week and long trip and must focus if they hope to win this one. Zach, Jason and Co. must be on top of their game if they want to contain Jeff Garcia and San Fran's potent offense. If Miami can put together another complete game like it did against Indy, it's tough to see how San Fran could stop them. Could be a high-scoring affair, though, if the 49ers begin to put up points as the Dolphins will unleash their passing game to keep up.


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