Tim Rattay will be asked to do something a 49ers quarterback has not accomplished since Joe Montana.
The 49ers face a critical game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, where they have not won since 1990, and their hopes ride on a quarterback making his third career start.
Rattay will start Sunday in place of injured regular Jeff Garcia, who is still experiencing swelling in his left ankle after sustaining a high left ankle sprain in an October 26 game against the Cardinals.
Coach Dennis Erickson said he would go with the quarterback who gives the 49ers the best chance at a victory. With Rattay at 100 percent after absorbing few hits in his first two starts, he will get the nod over Garcia, who was at an estimated 65- to 70-percent at midweek.
"I've never had trouble with so-called quarterback controversies, because that means you have two good quarterbacks," Erickson said. "Now if it was a quarterback controversy where neither one was very good, that would be a little different."
Erickson has maintained that there is no 49ers quarterback controversy, repeating that when Garcia is "100 percent," he returns to his starting job. Two weeks ago, Erickson said Garcia had to be "close to 100 percent."
What has changed is that Rattay has played very well in both games, leading the 49ers to back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
"I think you got to look at somebody playing at 60 percent or 70 percent, compared to somebody playing at 100 percent," Erickson said. "That's kind of how you look at it. Obviously, in Jeff's case, without his mobility he's not as effective. And, obviously, Tim is playing good so there's no reason to hurry him (Garcia) back."
Based on statistical analysis, there is little question that Rattay has been more productive this season. The 49ers compiled a 3-5 record with Garcia at the controls.
Garcia has completed 54.9 percent of his passes, while Rattay's completion percentage is 68.8. Garcia has eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions, while Rattay has six touchdowns and one interception. Garcia passer rating is 72.0, while Rattay checks in at 113.2.
But receiver Cedrick Wilson points out that there are other factors at play, too. In the two games that Rattay has played, the 49ers have clicked in every area of the game.
"Tim has played extremely well," Wilson said. "If you look at it, our offensive line has played extremely well; our running backs have been able to run the football; and our receivers have been getting open down the field; and our defense is creating turnovers."
In Rattay's two starts, he has compiled a passer rating of 120.4, becoming only the fourth quarterback since the 1970 merger to have a 100-plus rating in his first two starts. The others are Dan Marino, Scott Mitchell and Chad Pennington.
Part of why Erickson said he won't send Garcia back onto the field until he is 100 percent is because his mobility is such a large part of his game.
Garcia is a scrambler. He is the 49ers' third-leading rusher with 207 yards on 38 carries with a four touchdowns.
Actually, Garcia's running is what he does best, and it is also something that gets him into trouble, at times.
On the flip side, Rattay does not have much mobility, so he can't easily side-step a pass rush, yet it is part of his strength because he tends to hang in the pocket longer which allows his receivers longer to get through their pass routes.
The change in styles is also a difference for the offensive line. Through the years, Garcia has used his feet to escape a few sacks but, on occasion, he has also run into sacks. In fact, he was injured this season when he stepped up in the pocket sooner than necessary and was grabbed by Cardinals rookie defensive end Calvin Pace, who dragged him down and turned his ankle.
"With Jeff, you know where he's going to be to start the play," 49ers center Jeremy Newberry said. "But you have to maintain your block late in the play. Jeff is going to get on the run and make things happen. It's a little different."
Right tackle Scott Gragg said one of the reasons Rattay has been sacked just once in his two starts against the Rams and Steelers is because he knows when to get rid of the ball. Also, the offensive line knows exactly where he is, depending on whether it's a three-step or a five-step drop.
"You get used to what's back there in practice," Gragg said. "You know where Tim is. I think more importantly is getting rid of the ball on time, which he did all day (against the Steelers)."
SERIES HISTORY: 58th meeting. The Packers lead 30-26-1, including nine of their last 10 games. That steak includes a 4-1 record in the postseason.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--After a game against Minnesota earlier this season, receiver Terrell Owens proclaimed his role as a leader on the 49ers.
"Why am I the one answering questions? As a leader on this team, I am going to talk when we win and talk when we lose," he said on Sept. 28.
Owens has not talked to the media after a game since that day, and that does not mean the 49ers have played in a bunch of ties since that game.
Owens has been relatively quiet on the field, too. He finally broke out from a season on inconsistency and question marks on Monday night with an eight-catch, 155-yard performance against the Steelers. After scoring on a 61-yard touchdown in the first quarter, he displayed a wristband that read "The Answer."
No, it was not a rip-off from basketball star Allen Iverson. In fact, Iverson gave Owens the wristband when they met recently at a Sacramento Kings game. After the performance Monday night, Owens spoke on a couple television interviews.
"The first half of the season I really put a lot of pressure on myself to make the plays," he told ESPN. "I dropped some passes and I wasn't playing T.O.-like."
--The 49ers announced team president Peter Harris' contract would not be renewed when it expires in July. Harris will serve the remaining seven months of his contract. Owner John York said Harris' position became redundant because there was so much overlap between what he does as owner and what Harris' job description called for him to do as president and CEO.
--Receiver Cedrick Wilson is wishing he had not seen Antwaan Randle El's attire prior to Monday's game.
"I came out before the game and saw he wasn't wearing knee pads, so I went inside and took mine out," Wilson said.
On the first kickoff return of the game, Wilson received a helmet to his right knee. The deep bruise kept him out of action in the second half of the game.
--One of the big keys for the 49ers over the past couple weeks has been the return of left tackle Derrick Deese. According to the 49ers, Deese has not allowed a sack in 27 consecutive games, including the playoffs.
Deese missed most of the first half of the season with a left ankle sprain. He has been healthy for the last two games, and played well against Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom and the Steelers.
"He came back and did what he's always done," 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay said.
--Linebacker Jamie Winborn, whose season ended last week because of a herniated disc in his neck, said he plans to come back next season with more fire and passion than ever.
"I see why Ray Lewis was acting crazy every play of the game," Winborn said. "You never know how long you have to be out there."
--Second-year cornerback Mike Rumph has made tremendous strides from his rookie season, when opposing teams targeted him every week in their passing attack. In some games this season, Rumph has not gotten nearly as much action as established starter Ahmed Plummer.
Defensive coordinator Jim Mora said he no longer goes into a game figuring out ways to protect Rumph.
"Last year, we used to ask ourselves, 'What are we going to do to take care of Mike?'" Mora said. "Well this year I don't feel that way. I haven't for a long time because Mike has developed tremendously. I think he's a very, very good player right now. He's ascending. He's going to get better and better. He's playing at a high level of confidence. He's challenging receivers. He's a physical player. What he's doing right now is fulfilling the role that we thought he'd fulfill when we drafted him. He's a physical corner who can play cloud (coverage) and get up and play bump and run."
--In order for the 49ers to make a run at the playoffs this season, they have to win at least three of their final four games on the road. After playing the Packers on Sunday, they have road games left at Baltimore, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
"It is huge, but if we are going to make a run, that starts with four games on the road," Erickson said. "We know that we put ourselves in that position that is where we are at. But like the old clichi we just have to take it one game at a time. We go back to Green Bay this week and see what happens and not worry about the rest of them."
BY THE NUMBERS: 29 -- The number of quarterback sacks the 49ers have recorded this season, putting them on pace for 47 for the season. Last season, the 49ers ranked 24th in the league with 32 sacks.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are going to have to win about every game to guarantee a chance. You just never know what is going to happen. You just have to worry about yourself" -- 49ers coach Dennis Erickson on his team's playoff chances with a 5-5 record.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The 49ers received some shocking news last week when linebacker Jamie Winborn was declared out for the season with a herniated disc in his neck. Winborn was placed on injured reserve after an MRI examination revealed the injury.
"We're hopeful and optimistic that this is a season-ending injury and not a career-ended injury," 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said.
Winborn said he expects to play again after undergoing surgery to fuse the vertebrae in his neck. He has already received two opinions and plans to get a third, but he already knows surgery will be required.
He said there would be an eight-week recovery time, followed by his rehabilitation.
"I think I'll be back for the mini-camps, and definitely in time for the (2004) season," Winborn said.
Winborn had become a valuable member of the defense because of his versatility. He entered as a nickel linebacker, which allowed Julian Peterson to become a defensive end on passing downs.
With Winborn out for the season, it means second-year player Saleem Rasheed will get more action. Rasheed had a season-high two tackles Monday night in the 49ers' victory over the Steelers.
Rasheed will not take over all of Winborn's duties, because starters Jeff Ulbrich and Derek Smith will be asked to play more in nickel and dime situations.
"His role wasn't that big, because Jeff was all right and Derek has played in all the nickel stuff," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said of Rasheed. "When you have an injury like that and you are up Thursday night trying to figure out what you are trying to do because Jamie was huge in all of our nickel and dime stuff. Derek had done it too, so that is the direction that we went in this football game. But Saleem will be involved quite a bit more as the season goes on."
The 49ers signed linebacker Cornelius Anthony, who played 10 games with the 49ers last season.
--Safety Tony Parrish is tied for the team lead with four interceptions this season, two of which have led to 49ers touchdowns. Since last season, Parrish has 11 total takeaways: eight interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Parrish has started 90 consecutive games, the fourth-longest active streak among defensive backs.
--Safety Dwaine Carpenter is making a contribution on special teams after coming to the 49ers after his success in the Arena Football League. He played last season with the Buffalo Destroyers of the Arena2 League. He has nine special-teams tackles, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery on the season.
--Defensive end Andre Carter has shown no ill-effects of two bulging discs in his lower back, which kept him out of the 49ers' Nov. 2 game against the Rams. Carter recorded a sack Monday night against the Steelers. Since Dec. 2, 2001, Carter ranks fifth in the league with 22 sacks.
--Receiver Terrell Owens has seen the second-most passes of any receiver in the NFL. Owens has been the attended target of 106 passes this season, ranking second behind the Rams' Torry Holt. Owens has 56 catches for 791 yards. He has accounted for 38 first downs, which means 67.9 percent of his receptions result in first downs.
--Tight end Jed Weaver, who has started every game for the 49ers this season with the season-ending injury to Eric Johnson, is just one reception away from his career-high. Weaver is fifth on the team with 17 catches for 174 yards.
--Kicker Todd Peterson has seemed to bring some stability to the 49ers' kicking position. Peterson has made 4 of 5 field-goal attempts since joining the 49ers three games ago. His only miss was when he came up just short on a 53-yard attempt.
--Punt returner Jimmy Williams, who led the NFL with a 16.8-yard average last season, has not been able to break one this season. Williams has averaged just 7.9 yards on 23 punt returns. His season ended a year ago when he sustained a torn anterior-cruciate ligament.
--Running back Kevan Barlow bounced back strong after losing two fumbles in consecutive games before the bye week. Barlow gained a career-high 98 yards on eight carries against the Steelers, including a game-breaking 78-yard touchdown run.
GAME PLAN: The 49ers don't figure to mess with the recipe that has served them well with Tim Rattay at quarterback. The 49ers continue to be a running team behind starter Garrison Hearst and backup Kevan Barlow. Barlow made his biggest contribution of the season when he tore off on a 78-yard TD run against the Steelers to help break open a close game. Hearst has rushed for 662 yards this season, while Barlow has gained 525. The run game is such a big part of the 49ers' success that teams almost have to commit an eighth defender to stop the run, which then allows Rattay to make some plays in the passing game through the use of play-action pass.
The 49ers should have some opportunities to make plays against the Packers defense. The Packers' defense ranks just 27th in the league, and 25th overall. Rattay has a lot of leeway in the 49ers' offense to change the play at the line of scrimmage. Whenever Rattay sees Terrell Owens in single coverage on the outside, he will try to get the ball in his hands.
Defensively, the 49ers need to get a lot of pressure on Packers quarterback Brett Favre. The 49ers will use a combination of blitzes and their three-deep and two-deep zone defenses to keep the Packers off-balance. The 49ers have to concentrate on stopping the Packers' run game. Running back Ahman Green rushed for 1,172 yards and 10 touchdowns on 222 carries. The 49ers have done very well against the run this season, ranking fourth in the league. Defensive tackle Bryant Young is playing much better on the inside, and linebackers Derek Smith, Jeff Ulbrich and Julian Peterson have shown good pursuit to the ball. Safety Tony Parrish will give the 49ers the option of playing an eighth defender in the box on occasion, but the 49ers have such great respect for Brett Favre that they will try to get away with playing a standard defense as long as possible.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ers MLB Derek Smith, a big key to the team's run defense with a team-leading 110 tackles through 10 games, vs. Packers RB Ahman Green, who leads the league's top-ranked rushing attack with 1,172 yards and 10 touchdowns on 222 carries.
--DE Andre Carter, who shares the team lead with 4.5 sacks, vs. LT Chad Clifton, who has started all 10 games this season after missing the final six games of a year ago with a pelvic injury.
--DT Bryant Young, who has turned up his level of play in recent weeks, vs. LG Mike Wahle, who has been a valuable asset with the Packers' inside running game; LT Derrick Deese, who has played well since returning from a left ankle sprain, vs. DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who leads the Packers this season with five sacks.
--WR Terrell Owens, who leads the 49ers with 56 catches for 791 yards and five touchdowns, vs. RCB Al Harris, who has recorded two interceptions this season.
--C Jeremy Newberry, who some believed was the 49ers' offensive MVP through the first half of the season because of his ability to help establish an inside run game, vs. NT Gilbert Brown, who outweighs Newberry by a listed 30 pounds.
--FB Fred Beasley, whose job it is to open holes for the team's run game as the lead blocker, vs. LB Nick Barnett, a rookie who leads the Packers with 100 tackles for the season.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Jeff Garcia (left ankle) will miss his third consecutive start but could be active as the team's backup to Tim Rattay.
--CB Jason Webster (right hamstring) returned last week to play 36 plays after missing the first nine games of the season with a hairline fracture of his right tibia. Webster is expected to resume his role as the team's nickel back. ... WR Terrell Owens (groin) is sore but will continue to play as long as he does not experience a significant setback.
--S Zack Bronson, who missed two games with a bulging disc in his neck, is expected to be back in the starting lineup this week.
--LB Jeff Ulbrich (right ankle) managed to play with a high right ankle sprain and will be back in the lineup for Sunday's game.
--Safety Ronnie Heard (right knee) and left guard Eric Heitmann (left ankle) are out.
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