Rattay: Ready, relaxed and unruffled

It's Tim Rattay's team now, just like it was supposed to be back in May before a freak groin injury began a long and winding string of obstacles and questions regarding his availability and competency to take over as the 49ers' starting quarterback. But here Rattay is, like Superman out of a phone booth, back just in time from his health problems and ready at the last minute to carry the offense into the season. For openers, that doesn't appear too heavy a burden for the unassuming 5th-year QB.

Now that his groin injury is a thing of the past, now that his inflamed forearm has healed and he is zinging passes with Tim Rattay accuracy and velocity again, the man who's being asked to take over as the next great San Francisco QB actually was asked this week if he thinks he can be a Pro Bowl quarterback this season.

After all, that kind of thing comes with the territory. Rattay's predecessor at the position, Jeff Garcia, went to three Pro Bowls. Before Garcia, Steve Young went to seven consecutive Pro Bowls. Before Young, Joe Montana set the standard while garnering seven trips to the NFL's All-Star game.

Add it all up, and San Francisco's starting QB has been named to the Pro Bowl in 17 of the past 23 seasons. But upon being hit with the inquiry, Rattay didn't flinch. Without skipping a beat, he rattled off a response that is so typical of his persona and even-keeled temperament.

"I'm just worried about winning games and beating Atlanta right now," Rattay said. "And I'm just worried about trying to get this offense going and, really, just scoring points."

Believe it. For Rattay, it really is that elemental. He cares nothing about all the hullabaloo that comes with the position he now occupies. He just wants to play. And lead the offense. And score. And, most importantly, win.

"I'm not going to worry about all that other kind of stuff," Rattay said. "I'm just worried about the Falcons. Obviously, there's a super tradition here with all the guys that have been here. It's fun to be in an organization that expects and demands excellence. It's fun to be in that situation. I try to demand that out of myself. But right now it's a matter of getting comfortable in the offense and getting going and, really, just beating Atlanta."

This is hardly the same starting feeling Rattay had last year, when he made his first three NFL starts at midseason in place of an injured Garcia and led the Niners to two of the most impressive victories of the season.

Then, he was just the understudy filling in. Now, he's The Man. There's a distinction there, and also a lot more responsibility.

"Last year, I knew with (Garcia's) injury, it was a temporary situation," Rattay said. "He was still, obviously, the starting quarterback of the team. I was just going in until he got healthy. It has a lot different feel now, a better feel, where I know I'm the starting quarterback and now I'm just preparing to go out and play."

That's the direction in which Rattay steered all the questions this week about his injuries, about San Francisco's legacy at quarterback, about the doomsday projections of San Francisco's 2004 season. His answers gravitated from those issues toward the simple fact he has a football game to get ready for this weekend.

His first game as the 49ers' regular starter.

"He brings a lot of leadership to this team," coach Dennis Erickson said. "He brought a lot of leadership in the offseason. He brought a lot of leadership when we let (Garcia) go. He knew he was the guy, as far as the weight room and throwing and all the things he did (in) the winter and spring before he got hurt. He's embraced that role. He's a good leader.

"Emotionally, Jeff got into it. Tim's calm. If you watch him out in practice, he's demanding of the players. He knows what's going on and they have great respect for him. The bottom line to me is the respect of your teammates, because they know he can get it done."

Not everybody outside the 49ers feels the same way. Now is Tim Rattay's time to show them.

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