Niners still Garcia's team

San Francisco always is ripe for a quarterback controversy. But 49ers coach Dennis Erickson is having none of that. Before sending his team on a six-day vacation, Erickson defused any speculation over who is the Niners' starting QB during his final media comments this week, announcing Jeff Garcia still is the man if he is "healthy and can move around like he can move around." The question is, if Garcia meets those requirements, should he still be the starter on Nov. 17 against the Steelers?

The answer, of course, is an unwavering yes.

There are many out there who believe, after watching a smooth Tim Rattay steer the offense and team to a 30-10 victory over St. Louis on Sunday, that Rattay should remain in the saddle when the Niners return from their bye week, that the team should go with the hot hand and the guy who gave the team a jolt it needed in a must-win situation against the Rams.

This belief is reinforced by the fact Rattay appeared to be better suited than Garcia for Erickson's version of the West Coast offense, sitting comfortably in the pocket and zipping balls to streaking receivers after making good defensive reads.

It's comforting to know that Rattay could be so good against a quality team with a week of preparation. It now looks like the Niners made a shrewd move when they signed him to a three-year contract extension before this season began. But this still is Jeff Garcia's team, and he still gives the Niners the best chance to win.

When the subject inevitably turned to a possible quarterback controversy after Rattay's superb showing against the Rams - the best by a Niners quarterback this season - an exasperated Garcia said, "It's just something that obviously is going to be a natural conversation piece. It's something that's pretty much unavoidable. I'm a team-oriented guy and I'm supportive of my teammates. I'm supportive of Tim Rattay, of how he played today. I'll continue to be that kind of person. As far as any sort of controversy goes, if that sells paper or makes people pay attention, then (the media) has to do what (it) has to do."

That said, Garcia made a few things clear.

"When I'm healthy, I'm going to be the guy," he said. "I feel I've earned that right. I feel I've proven myself over time, and maybe this year hasn't been the best year for me, but it's not like I can't turn that around or I can't provide better opportunities on the football field."

And that's the key, as far as the Niners hitting the stretch run where they can't afford to lose more than once in the final seven weeks if they want to guarantee themselves a playoff spot.

With three weeks of rest since injuring the ankle, Garcia will be fresh, revamped and charged-up coming out of the bye week. After what he has accomplished with the team, he deserves more time to work out the problems he has faced this season and put it together for the stretch run.

If Garcia's not ready health-wise, the team obviously will go with Rattay. But it's likely Garcia will be ready, despite speculation in some circles he won't be. And when the Niners trot out Garcia against the Steelers, nobody should be wondering why. He's San Francisco's starting quarterback, and still is the guy who gives the Niners their best chance to save their season in the decisive months of November and December.

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