Season review: Quarterbacks

SFI breaks down the 49ers' 2004 season by unit. Today: quarterbacks

Starter in season opener: Tim Rattay

Starter in season finale: Ken Dorsey

Unit MVP: Tim Rattay

Top newcomer: Cody Pickett

Biggest disappointment: Ken Dorsey

Numbers to note: Rattay finished with a passer rating of 78.1 to rank 10th in the NFC – the lowest finish by the 49ers' No. 1 quarterback since 1978.

The good: When he was healthy, Rattay displayed some poise and promise as a pocket passer. He had a four-game string leading to midseason when he completed 66 percent of his passes while averaging 315 yards and two touchdowns each outing, keeping the 49ers close in each game. His 417-yard effort in an October win over Arizona ranks as the 10th-most prolific in team history. Despite arm problems, Rattay was an accurate passer who made quick decisions and had a firm grasp of the offense and a good feel for his passing progression. Dorsey, who got plenty of learning-on-the-job experience with Rattay battling injuries, led the 49ers to their other victory over Arizona, throwing three touchdown passes and compiling a quarterback ranking of 99.0. Rookie Cody Pickett, who wasn't expected to take any snaps this season, got thrown to the wolves in a late December game against Buffalo and wasn't overwhelmed.

The bad: San Francisco's three quarterbacks finished with a dismal rating of 69.9. That includes an 18.8 rating by Pickett in his cameo and a 62.4 rating by Dorsey that left him 32nd among the 33 quarterbacks who qualified for the NFL's passer rankings. The quarterbacks were pressured constantly and sacked 52 times – the second-highest total in team history. The protection contributed to poor performance, but a lot of it also was on the quarterbacks who committed key turnovers at crucial points of several games and didn't display much mobility. Rattay had the 49ers in position to pull out victories several times but committed fourth-quarter turnovers in six consecutive losses to make sure it didn't happen. Dorsey exhibited several times that he might not have the skills to succeed at the NFL level.

The ugly: Rattay sustained five significant injuries in 2004, forcing him to miss seven games. 49ers quarterbacks threw 16 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions, just the second time since 1980 they haven't thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions. Rattay lost eight fumbles and Dorsey lost three, giving San Francisco quarterbacks 32 turnovers this season – or two per game – which greatly contributed to the team's minus-19 finish in turnover differential, the second-worst figure in the NFL.

Looking ahead in 2005: Rattay has undergone surgery to relieve complications in his throwing forearm and should be ready for full action by spring minicamps. The next few months will be key to the future of all three quarterbacks currently on the roster, each of whom will be evaluated closely by the incoming coaching/management regime. The Niners have the first overall pick in the April draft and may use it to select a new quarterback of the future, which would mean Rattay, Dorsey or Pickett – or a combination of the three - could be on marked time with the team. The Niners also may use a lower first-day pick on a hot quarterback prospect. Regardless, the three quarterbacks currently on the roster will have to display improvement and development during the spring if they expect to remain factors with the team. Pickett will be given an opportunity to compete for playing time with the quarterbacks who were ahead of him on the depth chart in 2004 and, even if the Niners do bring in another young quarterback, they may not do it with the expectation he will contribute - or even play - in 2005.

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