Niners to drop kicker, but other problems persist

Updated: October 27, 2003, 9:35 PM ET

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers are ready to hire their fourth kicker in 15 games, prompting Jeff Garcia to make a few suggestions.

"Is Landon Donovan available?" the Pro Bowl quarterback asked. "I heard Brandi Chastain is available."

Well, why not? The San Francisco Bay area's top two soccer stars could be the best answers to a kicking conundrum that's just one of the 49ers' numerous problems during a 3-5 start.

Owen Pochman, the goat of San Francisco's 16-13 overtime loss to Arizona, will be released as soon as a replacement is found, coach Dennis Erickson said Monday. The 49ers are expected to sign nine-year veteran Todd Peterson, the former Pittsburgh kicker who played for Erickson with the Seattle Seahawks.

Pochman survived just six weeks with the 49ers. He missed seven field goals in his last four games, including a 35-yarder that would have put San Francisco ahead of the Cardinals with 2:25 left in regulation.

The 49ers just hope their kicking problem isn't an institutional epidemic. Pochman, Jeff Chandler and Jose Cortez all have failed at the pressure-packed position in the last two seasons -- and despite the team's attempt to exercise patience with Pochman, the 49ers couldn't wait any longer.

"They're coming into a situation where they're almost immediately looking over their shoulder, wondering when that hook is coming," Garcia said. "That's the last situation you want to put a kicker into. That's a tough position."

Along with his field goal woes, Pochman didn't provide the consistent depth on kickoffs expected by the 49ers, who expected booming kicks when they cut Chandler to sign him last month. Worst of all, Pochman put his kickoff out of bounds to begin overtime against Arizona.

The 49ers also missed two extra points in recent weeks, including one against Arizona, on botched snaps by Pochman's holder, punter Bill LaFleur. Erickson said LaFleur's job is safe for now.

The 49ers nearly dropped Pochman after missing three field goals against Tampa Bay on Oct. 19. But mindful of their recent history at the position, Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue attempted to show faith that Pochman could succeed where Jose Cortez and Chandler have failed.

"We all felt last week that he was going to come out of it," Erickson said. "Obviously, he didn't. ... I think we need a guy that's been there, that can deal with the pressures of that job."

Peterson was dropped by the Steelers last February after struggling on the difficult turf at Heinz Field. He has converted 182 of 234 field goal attempts and missed only two of 260 extra points -- and if the 49ers sign him, he will be their first kicker with significant NFL experience since Wade Richey, who left two years ago.

Pochman's highly visible struggles deflected a bit of fan wrath from another dismal performance by the 49ers' offense, which managed just 255 total yards against Arizona's suspect defense.

Garcia sprained his ankle during the game and finished with just 153 yards passing, while the rushing attack that destroyed the Buccaneers last week managed just 106 yards -- 44 on four scrambles by Garcia.

"That's what really hurts, is that in not one of the three basic pieces of the game did we play at the level we think we can play," Garcia said.

The defending NFC West champions' playoff hopes will be in trouble with just one or two more losses, and team morale appears to be sagging. In particular, a listless loss to lowly Arizona will be difficult to shake in time for Sunday's key game against St. Louis.

"We're in a huge hole," Erickson said. "That's simply it. You'd like to paint a pretty picture, but there's no pretty picture to paint. ... We've got some problems, but until people tell us we're out of it playoff-wise, that's still what we're shooting for."


^GARCIA LIMPING:@ Garcia is the latest in a long series of San Francisco players with sprained ankles this season. He wore a protective boot on his leg Monday.

"This seems to be a disease in this room this year," Garcia said. "I think we've probably increased the earnings of the company that makes that ski boot that we've got to wear around. That's not a good thing, but at least they know how to treat me."

Injuries have dogged Garcia all season, starting with the back problem that kept him out of the start of training camp.

"I was finally starting to heal up," said Garcia, who's probable for Sunday against the Rams. "My body was starting to feel good going into (Arizona). I thought I was finally going to get out of the training room, and then this happens."

With a 72.0 passer rating and just 1,523 yards passing, Garcia is disappointed both in his own play and the 49ers' dismal start. Only an outstanding finish will put San Francisco back in the playoffs and Garcia in Hawaii for his fourth Pro Bowl.

"I don't want to put blame on the injuries," Garcia said, "but I do believe I haven't played up to the level of my expectations this year. It hasn't been the best first half of the season for me."


^INJURY UPDATE:@ S Ronnie Heard, the 49ers' top reserve defensive back and a key special teams player, will miss four to five weeks with a sprained left knee. The fourth-year pro has one interception this season after getting four last season. ... DE John Engelberger broke his left hand, but he is expected to play Sunday. ... DT Bryant Young has a toe injury, but is probable for Sunday.

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