SITE: Dolphin Stadium; Miami, Fla.
TV: FOX (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers)
SERIES: 10th regular-season meeting. The Dolphins lead 5-4, including a 24-17 victory in the last meeting in 2004. The clubs also met in Super Bowl XIX, a game in which the 49ers won 38-16.
KEYS TO THE GAME: This is a bad game for RB Frank Gore's status to be uncertain. Miami hasn't allowed a touchdown in its past two games, and Gore's backup, DeShaun Foster, has just 37 carries for 78 yards on the season. But San Francisco needs production on the ground to protect QB Shaun Hill. Hill has a quick release, but the 49ers' line will struggle with the Dolphins' aggressive 3-4 defensive front in protection. ... The 49ers give up 335.2 yards per game, but they do a good job of buckling down in the red zone, where they have allowed just 21 touchdowns in 47 drives. Miami will move the ball, but the game could swing on its ability to punch the ball into the end zone. The Dolphins are doing an excellent job of using the short passing game to complement the ground game, averaging 6.03 yards on first down.
49ers: Gore (ankle) is a game-time decision; CB Nate Clements (thumb) is expected to play.
Dolphins: CB Jason Allen (broken hand) is probable.
FAST FACTS: The 49ers' 10-3 win at Buffalo two weeks ago stands as the only win by a West Coast team in 17 tries in the Eastern time zone this season. ... Miami has 10 turnovers, an average of .77 per game. The lowest average in NFL history was .88 by the 1990 Giants, who had 14 in 16 games.
-- RB Michael Robinson might get a few more carries Sunday against the Dolphins in the likely event Frank Gore is unable to play. On the season, Robinson has 12 rushing attempts for 38 yards. A quarterback at Penn State, Robinson has taken about a dozen snaps this season in the 49ers' version of the "Wildcat" formation.
-- TE Delanie Walker has done a commendable job on kickoff returns, filling in for injured Allen Rossum. Walker has averaged 20.5 yards on 12 kickoff returns with a long return of 35 yards three weeks ago against the Dallas Cowboys. Walker has just one reception the past three weeks. He had an apparent 28-yard touchdown catch nullified by a holding penalty.
-- LB Tully Banta-Cain, who was a starter last season, has gotten little playing time on defense this season. However, Banta-Cain has made a contribution on special teams. He leads the 49ers with 15 tackles on special teams.
-- CB Nate Clements, who missed last week's game against the New York Jets with a broken right thumb, had a pin removed on Wednesday and is expected to return to action Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Clements has two interceptions and eight passes defensed. Clements is also strong in run support, recording 45 solo tackles on the season.
-- LB Parys Haralson has recorded a team-high seven sacks, half of which has come in the past four games. Haralson has a chance to become the first 49ers player to achieve 10 or more sacks since Andre Carter in 2002.
-- CB Michael Lehan was released by Miami from its injured reserve list. He was placed on injured reserve Aug. 18 with a hamstring injury. The six-year veteran is free to sign with another team now.
-- SS Yeremiah Bell leads the Dolphins with a career-best 97 tackles with seven passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
-- CB Will Allen leads the team with 14 passes defensed and three interceptions to go with 45 tackles and a forced fumble.
-- WR Chris Hannon, who was signed off the 49ers practice squad last week, said the Dolphins have picked his brain a little for inside information but nothing too detailed such as audibles and play-calling, just what they do in certain situations. Last month, the Dolphins signed DT Joe Cohen, who was with the 49ers last season.
-- CB Jason Allen is on the injury list with a hand injury but has practiced all week. CB Nate Jones took his nickel spot last week, relegating Allen to mostly special teams.
-- RB Jalen Parmele was poached from the practice squad earlier this week by the Ravens. Tony Sparano said those are the risks you take by keeping raw draft picks stashed on the practice squad instead of the 53-man roster, where they can't be swiped. "Not so much a blow but a young guy we drafted and thought a lot about. Guy had some other options. I'm happy for Jalen but that happens. We've done that to other people right now where we've been able to grab a guy off someone else's practice squad. It's that time of year, holiday season," Sparano joked.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Running back DeShaun Foster started 16 games for the Carolina Panthers last season. Since signing a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason, he has been a bit player.
That could change Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, as starting 49ers running back Frank Gore might not be able to play with a left ankle sprain.
Foster rushed for at least 875 yards in each of the past three seasons with the Panthers.
After starting 30 games in 2006 and '07 with the Panthers, Foster said he still considers himself a starter. But he has carried the ball four times or fewer in 11 of the 49ers' first 13 games. He did not have a rushing attempt in six of those games.
That should change on Sunday against the Dolphins. Foster said he figures to hear his number called quite a bit with Gore likely to be sidelined.
"I feel fresh," he said. "I haven't been pounded on at all."
Gore is holding out hope that he'll be ready to play Sunday. If he can't play, he'll watch Foster from the sideline.
"DeShaun will be great," Gore said. "He's done it before. He's been the man in Carolina. He knows the offense. He'll be fine."
Gore is fifth in the NFL with 1,345 yards from scrimmage. Foster, meanwhile, is having the least productive season of his career after spending his rookie year (2002) on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Foster has gained just 78 yards on 37 carries. He has six receptions for 71 yards.
Because he did not know when his touches would come, Foster said he felt an urgency to make the most of his limited action. As a result, he said he has not always been patient with the ball in his hands. He has two fumbles in the past four games.
"I've been trying to fight, fight, fight for yardage," Foster said. "As long as I stay within myself, I'll be all right."
Winning generally brings players and coaches recognition, especially on a team that has gone from a 1-15 laughingstock to an 8-5 playoff contender in one season.
The fans' on-line voting for the Pro Bowl selections is complete and Miami has three players leading at their positions. The players and coaches voted this week.
The fans got this one right when they placed outside linebacker Joey Porter at the top at his position. His NFL-leading 16.5 sacks have him headed to his fourth Pro Bowl, but first since 2005.
"What Joey has done right now is pretty impressive. The list is not very long right now of guys with 16.5 sacks," coach Tony Sparano said. "There's no hiding with those kind of players. They're out there on the edge and everybody knows they're on the edge, and everybody tries to block them a bunch of different ways. ... Those guys at the end of the games when those guys play 55-60 plays it's like playing 120 plays. They're getting hit by two to three people on some plays."
Rookie left tackle Jake Long is having a solid season. However, it's obvious his status and notoriety from being the overall No. 1 draft pick has helped him secure the top spot for tackles.
In a shocker, undrafted rookie kicker Dan Carpenter, who has made 18 of 21 field goals, including 14 straight at one point, leads all AFC kickers. He only has five touchbacks and the Dolphins are ranked last in opposition field position. He is only ranked 11th in scoring in the AFC, so he clearly has quite a fan base back home in Montana.
Running back Ronnie Brown trails Titans rookie Chris Johnson, but he is expected to jump ahead after the coaches and players vote. Brown's value in the Wildcat formation is difficult to measure, but he has accounted for 1,010 yards from scrimmage, including 41 yards as a quarterback, and 11 touchdowns. He has lost just one fumble this season. Along with quarterback Chad Pennington, who seems deserving of a Pro Bowl berth this season, Brown is a key reason why Miami has an NFL-low 10 turnovers and leads with a plus-12 turnover differential.
Sparano is focused on preparing for a fired-up 49ers team under interim head coach Mike Singletary, but he took time out to pay tribute to these possible Pro Bowl players.
"There is a point during the course of a season where, as things are going good for you and you start to play well, maybe in the back of your mind you start to think about individual honors like that," Sparano said. "This team has done a great job of keeping their focus on team goals, and team honors. If in fact something like that happened for some of these players I'd be their biggest fan in that situation because I know how hard they worked. I know where they came from to get where we are right now."
Safety Yeremiah Bell and special teams stalwart Patrick Cobbs are legitimate candidates for the Pro Bowl, as well as cornerback Will Allen.