Settling in

Tim Rattay may have surprised the rest of the NFL with his fine play at quarterback this month, but he's not surprising the 49ers. And he's certainly not surprising himself. Rattay answered plenty of questions about his ability during standout performances against St. Louis and Pittsburgh in his first two career starts. The question this week is how he'll handle some northern exposure.

Rattay's first two starts came amid the relatively cozy home confines of San Francisco's 3Com Park. This week, he leads the Niners into enemy territory for a crucial battle with the Packers and their frenzied fans at frosty Lambeau Field, a place San Francisco has not left as a winner since 1990.

Rattay is approaching this latest dire situation with usual stoic demeanor.

"Just like anything, it's something you have to deal with," Rattay said Wednesday.

Rattay hasn't dealt with a situation quite like this as an NFL starter, but he drew comparisons to his college days at upstart Louisiana Tech, which was forced to play road games at major powers for the big paydays such games would bring to the school.

"We played on the road a lot," he said. "We had to go play schools to make money. We spent a lot of time playing Florida State, Nebraska and SEC teams on the road. It was fun playing on the road. In college, we didn't get many people at home."

It's Rattay's job now to keep the fun going on the road for the 49ers, who have scored 30 points in each of his starts. The Niners are 0-4 on the road this season, but must play four times the next five week in cold-weather cities as they attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Each game will be crucial to those hopes, but the first might be the biggest. Like the 49ers, the Packers are 5-5 and looking to take a major step back into the playoff race Sunday.

"It's a very important step for our team," Rattay said. "We obviously need to keep winning and keep getting wins to get us toward that playoff push we're trying to make. For our team, it's a very important game. It's a road game, and obviously with our schedule, we need to start winning road games."

Rattay has played a huge factor in San Francisco's first two-game winning streak of 2003, completing 40 of 56 passes for 490 yards and five touchdowns in his two starts. His passer rating this season is 113.2

He has stood poised in the pocket and has been quick with his defensive reads and accurate with his quick release and pinpoint throws.

"He is just throwing the ball down the football field," coach Dennis Erickson said when asked what's the most impressive thing about watching Rattay play. "Probably the biggest thing is, he is getting rid of it. He understands where to go with the football. He plays within himself. He is throwing very accurately. You know, all of those things. He knows when it is coming, knows when the blitz is coming, knows where to get rid of it, gets rid of it and he hasn't thrown any interceptions - hasn't turned it over."

Erickson never doubted Rattay could do it, even if many observers hadn't even heard of the fourth-year quarterback before.

"Does it surprise me? No, not really," Erickson said. "I mean, I have expected him to do that. You don't know until they play live. But he has done that in practice. He has executed like that in all of the opportunities, for the most part, that he has had. The thing is, he has just never been in a situation where he was the starter, other than in preseason. Then he's had to come in a couple times this year in very difficult situations and those are hard to evaluate. He has played very, very well. And he has had some people play well with him - and that makes a huge difference."

Erickson continued his stance that, when completely healthy, Jeff Garcia would return as the team's starter, irregardless of how Rattay is playing. Erickson said Garcia is now about 70 to 75 percent healthy. The coach is not concerned about how any lingering quarterback controversy might affect the team.

"The team in that locker room, all they care about is winning," Erickson said. "Whoever gives them the best chance to win is the key. I don't believe they particularly care who the guy is, as long as he wins. They have confidence in both guys, that is the bottom line."

Of course, the confidence in Rattay is growing by the day.

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