Rattay era came and went quickly

Tim Rattay never had a chance. He was a caretaker quarterback in an impossible situation with the 49ers once coach Mike Nolan arrived in January and then brought in his shiny new boy toy Alex Smith three months later. You can't necessarily blame Nolan for that. Rattay was the starting quarterback of a 2-14 team last year. Starting quarterbacks of 2-14 teams don't start for long in the NFL.

But Rattay always seemed a cut above that. Give him the right situation, give him some talent around him, give him some playmakers to work with, and Rattay could be a decent NFL quarterback. He might even live up to the standards of the hallowed quarterbacks who came before him in San Francisco, at least to a certain degree.

Instead, Rattay gets to go down in team history as the soon-to-be-forgotten link between Smith and those great quarterbacks of yore.

"This was a difficult decision for me, because I think he is a good, solid backup," coach Mike Nolan said after he shipped Rattay to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for an undisclosed draft pick a few hours before the NFL's Oct. 18 trade deadline. "By the standards of what we have here, that's an important role on this team."

Nolan was trying to be gratuitous, but it almost sounded like a sendoff insult for Rattay, who never was viewed as possessing the caliber of quality the 49ers wanted behind center.

But, despite the lack of talent around him, Rattay got his shot. And he failed.

With all the injuries that he dealt with in 2004, Rattay really couldn't be judged by his performance during last year's sinking ship of a season. But he had to know that after that disastrous performance, he was going to be judged on a game-by-game basis this season.

It started off beautifully, with Rattay producing one of the best games of his career in the opener, leading the 49ers to a captivating upset victory over the St. Louis Rams. He directed the offense smoothly and confidently with quick-release passes. That was the Tim Rattay who had shown so much promise as a passer while developing behind Jeff Garcia from 2000-2003.

It was Rattay's job to hold then. But he had to grasp it firmly.

Instead, in Week 2 at Philadelphia, the other Tim Rattay appeared. That's the Rattay that looks shaky in the pocket, throws tentatively, lacks the take-charge mentality needed to lead a team from behind and makes killer interceptions at the most inopportune times.

Rattay's fourth-quarter interceptions seemed to define his 16-start career with the 49ers, including the two he threw against Dallas in Week 3 that helped the Cowboys rally to victory after they trailed by 12 points entering the final period.

With Smith waiting in the wings, Nolan and Co. weren't going to take much more of that. When the other Rattay appeared again in Week 4, Nolan had seen enough.

Rattay was on his way out then, and he knew it. The 49ers simply waited around for the best offer. They weren't going to just give Rattay away. But they were happy to send him away when the Buccaneers came calling desperately after their starter, Brian Griese, went down with a knee injury.

"It was more about Alex," Nolan said. "I expect him to be the future of the franchise at quarterback."

Rattay is now San Francisco's quarterback of future passed. Instead of being the next extension in the lineage of star 49ers' quarterbacks, Rattay's name will find its resting place in team annals next to guys like Steve Spurrier and Steve DeBerg.

In other words, guys who had a chance to be good quarterbacks with the 49ers but never could quite get there. And, most certainly, couldn't take the team there with them.

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