In Rattay do 49ers trust?

Quarterback Tim Rattay has been the man that the 49ers have wanted to replace since Mike Nolan took over as head coach and operational chief in January.

It took Nolan more than a month after getting the job before he first spoke with Rattay, the incumbent starting quarterback. If that didn't give everyone a clear indication of Nolan's thoughts on him being the long-term quarterback, then the 49ers' selection with the first overall pick in April's draft certainly did.

The 49ers chose quarterback Alex Smith of Utah with the No. 1 selection, and then made him the starting quarterback entering training camp.

But when Smith struggled, Rattay won the starting job with an impressive exhibition season. Rattay has won over Nolan, but only to a degree.

After Rattay threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' disheartening 34-31 loss last week to the Cowboys, Nolan spoke about Rattay's limitations.

"You'd like to get the fourth quarter to look like the first three," Nolan said. "Everyone is affected by everyone. It's not just one guy's fault. Now some guys, great players, can overcome a lot of things, but we're not talking about that in this case."

But there have been times this season that Rattay has looked great. And this week he is facing the team, the Cardinals, against which he experienced his finest NFL game.

Last season, Rattay completed 38 of 57 passing attempts for 417 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 overtime victory against the Cardinals.

Rattay opened this season with a strong performance, compiling a 141.9 passer rating in the 49ers' season-opening victory over the Rams. Since then, his play has been wildly inconsistent. He struggled against the Eagles in Week 2. And last week, he played exceptionally well for three quarters before bombing in the fourth quarter.

Of his 17 career interceptions, Rattay has thrown 11 of those picks in the fourth quarter. Last season, seven of his 10 interceptions were in the final period, and he also lost three fumbles in the fourth quarter.

When asked about his late-game difficulties, Rattay clearly had no answers as to why the breakdowns are occurring at the worst-possible times.

"Obviously, I'm not trying to have turnovers in the fourth quarter," Rattay said. "I'm trying to win games. We're behind and trying to go down there and score. I'm not trying to throw the ball to the other team."

Rattay had two interceptions in the 49ers' loss to the Cowboys. The first one was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by linebacker Al Singleton. The second interception occurred when Rattay tried to hit receiver Otis Amey on a slant. Cornerback Terence Newman got a hand on the ball to deflect it to linebacker Dat Nguyen.

"On the one, the guy just tipped it," Rattay said. "I can't worry about that. I'm going to throw the same pass there. The second one was tight coverage and I didn't need to force it in there."

Rattay, and his low-key demeanor, is popular in the locker room, where his teammates say they have not lost any trust in the quarterback.

"I trust Tim to the fullest, as a player and as a person," said receiver Brandon Lloyd, who caught two touchdown passes from Rattay against the Cowboys. "It comes down to we lost momentum and the plays weren't working for us."

Rattay will start his fourth game of the season on Sunday night against the Cardinals. His contract stipulates that if he plays more than 50 percent of the 49ers' offensive plays this season, he will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

But next year is a long ways away. As much as the 49ers wanted Smith to win the starting job this season, next year they will likely force the issue even greater.

WINBORN TRADE STILL IN PROCESS: Nolan said he's "still in the process" of working a trade for linebacker Jamie Winborn, who left the team Wednesday at the suggestion of his coach.

Winborn started San Francisco's first two games at outside linebacker. He was relegated to a backup role last week, and Nolan said he would accommodate Winborn's wishes to be a starter by trading him to another team. But that could be tricky, considering the salary cap hit another team would have to absorb to take on Winborn and the remainder of his 2005 salary.

"There are still about four teams or so that are interested in him," Nolan said. "Some teams are certainly interested in him more than others. But once you get past Tuesday, it's difficult for teams to make a choice on something like that going into the weekend."

Nolan said that means a trade involving Winborn might not be completed until early next week.

YOU COULD SEE WINBORN SAGA COMING: The foreshadowing of this move took place on Sunday. Winborn was replaced in the starting lineup by Andre Carter. Following the 49ers' discouraging 34-31 loss to the Cowboys, Nolan spoke at length about some players whom he believed do not "trust" the system.

"We will find a place for those that think they have a better idea," Nolan said.

At midweek, Nolan began trying to find a place for Winborn, who took Nolan's advice and cleared out his locker and did not practice. Nolan said he suggested that Winborn not practice with the team so that he would not risk an injury.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS: The 49ers are approaching this week's game no differently their usual Sunday fare. The 49ers face the Cardinals on Sunday night in the first NFL regular-season game played outside the United States. The NFL is expecting a sellout crowd of 85,000 at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, though there were 20,000 unsold tickets at midweek.

"The important thing we stressed is this is a business trip," Nolan said. "We're not going down there to do anything than to take care of business. We'll approach it that way.

"From the players' standpoint, staying close to the hotel will be something we'll try to do because nobody knows where they're going. I know we're going to supply some things for players to do if they stay at the hotel, as well as accommodate them if there's some things they want to do outside the hotel, but it will all be done under close supervision."

FULLBACK FALLING OUT OF FAVOR?: Fullback Fred Beasley has also apparently fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. He did not start last week against the Cowboys, though he did play about two-thirds of the time the 49ers had a fullback on the field.

"What they ask me to do, I can't do anything but accept it and do my best when I'm out there," Beasley said. "I try to help this team win, whether I like it or not.

"If you look at the first game and the second game, it's evident what I can do. As far as how they feel about me, you have to ask them that. The only thing I know is when I'm on the field, I give 100 percent."

CLEMENT'S REVENGE?: Tackle Anthony Clement might be in the starting lineup at left tackle when he faces his former team, the Cardinals.

"There are some personal things I need to take care of," said Clement, who signed with the 49ers last week.

Starting left tackle Jonas Jennings is questionable with a shoulder injury. Clement, who spent his first seven seasons with the Cardinals, has not played left tackle since his rookie season.

NOLAN TO THE DEFENSE: Nolan's forte is defense, so it has to be especially disconcerting that the 49ers' defense is the worst in the league through the first three games. The opposition has rolled up an average of 477 yards through the first three weeks.

Now, Nolan said he will continue to get a little more involved with defensive coordinator Billy Davis.

"I've been involved the last couple of weeks and I'll continue to be involved with that," Nolan said. "It's a difficult thing for Billy to come into and assume my scheme. My scheme has evolved into a 49ers scheme right now because it's adapted to our players.

"In doing that (helping out) I can add a lot of experience to what's going on in there and that's what I will continue to do. Billy is our defensive coordinator and he's done a nice job. It's a tough duty trying to assume someone else's scheme and trying to make it fit to the players."

FANS NOT ALL THERE?: Nolan was still a little concerned with the home crowd in the 49ers' loss to the Cowboys. At the end of the game, Cowboys fans at Monster Park were so loud that they contributed to a 49ers' false-start penalty. And instead of running the two-minute offense from the shotgun formation, Rattay was forced to go under center.

"As I said when I took the job, our fans will be instrumental in our success," Nolan said.

"They were instrumental in our victory over the Rams. I would like them to keep their seat and cheer for us rather than give them to Cowboys' fans. Now, we have great fans and since we do have great fans, I'd like to see them all there."

NEWBERRY MISSES WEEK OF PRACTICE: Two-time Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry did not participate in a full practice session for the second consecutive week because of a sore right knee that threatens to end his season early. Newberry was called for two holding penalties last Sunday against the Cowboys, but Nolan said he did not believe those mistakes were a direct result of Newberry's injury. "He was on probably one of their best players (La'Roi Glover)," Nolan said. "He got called both times. He was just working his butt off to make the block."

RETURN OF MIDDLEBROOKS: Cornerback Willie Middlebrooks, originally acquired in a July trade for defensive end John Engelberger, will be in the mix for major playing time at both cornerback and nickel back in his first game after the club re-signed him. Middlebrooks will compete with rookie Derrick Johnson for playing time at both positions. Middlebrooks did not make the team's roster for the opening week of the season because he was not starting and he is not a contributor on special teams.

McADDLEY ADDING WR DEPTH: Wide receiver Jason McAddley was signed to the 53-man roster this week after being waived by the team on Aug. 30. McAddley was needed because the 49ers barely have enough receivers to get through practice. Rashaun Woods was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after thumb surgery, and practice-squader Marcus Maxwell is out a month or more with heel injury.

SERIES HISTORY VS. CARDINALS 28th meeting. The 49ers lead series 17-10, including victories in the last three meetings. The 49ers' only two wins last season came at the Cardinals' expense, both in overtime by the same 31-28 score.

BY THE NUMBERS: The 49ers' pass defense has been torched in the first three games, as Marc Bulger, Donovan McNabb and Drew Bledsoe have combined for a 109.3 passer rating against the 49ers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If I were the home team, I wouldn't want to take my home game away from me. That's pretty evident because you do count on your fans." - Nolan on playing the Cardinals in Mexico City in a game that was originally scheduled for Arizona.

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