KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Cris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman
SERIES: 107th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 55-49-2. This had been a series of streak until last season. From 1990-98, the 49ers won seven straight. From 1999-2001, the Rams won six in a row, only to have that streak snapped in San Francisco last season. The Rams then won the regular-season finale when the 49ers rested many of their starters.
2003 RANKINGS: 49ers: offense 4th (2nd rush, 14th pass); defense 1st (4th rush, 1st pass). Rams: offense 7th (31st rush, 2nd pass); defense 23rd (27th rush, 13th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers have been burned in recent years by the Rams'
speedy receivers on the turf of the Edward Jones Dome, and come to St. Louis
without two of their top four cornerbacks (injured CBs Jason Webster and Rashad Holman). CB Mike Rumph has improved in coverage, and the Rams must watch him
blitzing off the corner. San Francisco will pound RBs Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow at the Rams in hopes drawing the defense forward and opening holes for WR
Terrell Owens. It comes down to the 49ers figuring out a way to beat St. Louis'
FAST FACTS: 49ers: QB Jeff Garcia's passer rating in four road games at St. Louis is 43.6, with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. ... RB Garrison Hearst needs 177 yards to become the fourth player with 5,000 rushing yards with the franchise. Rams: They have won four consecutive home games against the 49ers, and six of nine home openers since moving to St. Louis. ... RB Marshall Faulk needs 99 yards from scrimmage to pass Thurman Thomas (16,532) for sixth-most all-time.
PREDICTED SCORE: Rams 28, 49ers 24
--LT Derrick Deese (right ankle) did not return to practice Thursday as anticipated but coach Dennis Erickson said Deese will practice Friday and be ready to start Sunday against the Rams.
--RT Scott Gragg returned to practice for the first time since sustaining a high left ankle sprain on Aug. 14. Coach Dennis Erickson placed Gragg's chances of playing Sunday against the Rams at 50-50. Erickson said it will almost assuredly be a game-time decision.
--CB Rashad Holman, who was originally expected to be out three weeks with a right groin strain, actually has a chance to play Sunday against the Rams. Holman's injury was not as bad as Erickson was initially told. He might try to get in some work at practice Friday.
--RB Kevan Barlow felt some discomfort in his right hamstring but practiced Thursday at half speed. Barlow is expected to share action with Garrison Hearst, as usual.
--QB Jeff Garcia has struggled on the Rams' home field. Garcia, who enters the game with a lifetime passer rating of 89.8, has a 43.6 rating in four games on the road against the Rams. He has completed just 41.7 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and seven interceptions.
--RS/WR Arland Bruce will retain his job as the team's primary return man for at least another week, coach Dennis Erickson said. Bruce struggled in the season opener, fumbling once, briefly dropping another punt and bobbling a third. He keeps his job over Jimmy Williams, who led the NFL with a 16.8 punt-return average a year ago.
--RS/CB Jimmy Williams will not start the game as the team's punt-returner. Williams, who is nursing a quadriceps bruise, is scheduled to be the team's No. 3 cornerback with Holman expected to be out of action.
--CB Jason Webster is making good progress from a right knee injury and is expected to be ready in three weeks.
--NT Ryan Pickett is still gimpy because of an ankle injury, but is expected to play Sunday against the 49ers.
--QB Kurt Warner had increased work in practice Thursday, and doctors will make a decision Friday whether to clear him to be the backup to Marc Bulger on Sunday. If Warner isn't cleared, the Rams will enter the game at quarterback with only Bulger and recently-signed Scott Covington.
--WR Dane Looker is now the third receiver with rookie Shaun McDonald sidelined for 4-to-6 weeks with a thumb injury.
--WR Mike Furrey was active for last week's game against the Giants, but did not play. With rookie Shaun McDonald out because of a thumb injury, Furrey will be the team's fourth receiver against the 49ers.
--WR Kevin Curtis, out since Aug. 23 with a broken fibula, has started running and will be X-rayed Sunday or Monday to gauge his progress. The Rams hope to have him back for the Sept. 29 games against Arizona.
--FS Jason Sehorn started running this week, and had an MRI Thursday to judge the healing in the bone that was broken in his foot. Coach Mike Martz said Sehorn is progressing quickly and that his return would be no later than the game against Arizona Sept. 29.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Although this is linebacker Jamie Winborn's third season with the 49ers, Sunday's game will mark just the second time that he has played against the Rams.
And that's significant because Winborn was selected in the second round of the 2001 draft, in part, for how he might match up against the 49ers' NFC West division rival.
"You draft a guy like Jamie Winborn, yeah, because you're playing in the same division with Marshall Faulk," 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. "You draft a guy like Jamie Winborn because he's got speed that can possibly match up with Marshall at times."
Winborn is the 49ers' No. 4 linebacker but he is also a key figure for the team's unit. In the opener last week against the Chicago Bears, he played six different defensive positions, Mora said. Winborn played two linebacker positions and both safety spots, while also lining up at defensive end and cornerback.
Although he figures to matched up man-to-man on occasion against Faulk, he is not obsessing about facing one of the league's best players.
"If it comes with me playing him man-to-man for an entire game, I'm fine with it," Winborn said. "If (playing zone) on him, I'm fine with that. I want to do the best things for the team. It's not Make-Jamie-Winborn-look-good-against-Faulk Day."
Winborn said Faulk did not catch any passes out of the backfield when he was matched up on him Dec. 9, 2001, the only time Winborn has played against the Rams. Faulk caught five passes for 19 yards in that game. Injuries sidelined Winborn for 15 games in his first two seasons.
"He's a great running back and he can do it all but I'm not at all intimidated," Winborn said. "I got a lot of respect for the guy, but I'm a professional and I got to play my game.
"I don't care about him being Marshall Faulk or any of that. I wouldn't care if he was O.J. Simpson. I'm going to go out and play my same technique and be just as aggressive as if I was playing a kindergartener."
Lost in the soap opera that has been the Rams' quarterback situation this week, is the virtual absence of any discussion regarding running back Marshall Faulk and how little he was used in the season-opening loss to the Giants.
Faulk carried the ball on the first two plays of the game, gaining a total of four yards, and he didn't carry again for six plays. The Rams had four consecutive three-and-outs to open the game, and when Faulk finished the first quarter with just three yards on four attempts, he was almost forgotten in the running game.
He never carried on consecutive plays again, and finished the game with 28 yards on nine attempts, including an 18-yard run.
Coach Mike Martz went away from Faulk when he was ineffective early, believing the Rams could pass on the Giants. They did at times, but by the time the game was over, the Rams had called 60 pass plays and only 10 running plays for running backs, playing right into the hands of the Giants' aggressive, blitzing defense.
With Marc Bulger at quarterback this week against the 49ers, Martz is expected to be more even-handed in his offensive approach.