In what figures to add even more fuel to an already-simmering quarterback debate, Tim Rattay will start his third consecutive game for San Francisco on Sunday, when the 49ers travel to Green Bay, as Jeff Garcia remains sidelined by a sprained ankle.
San Francisco coach Dennis Erickson, who had suggested Tuesday that Rattay probably would start since Garcia is still not fully recovered from his injury, made it official after the Wednesday practice. Erickson reiterated Garcia will regain his starting job when he is healthy, but the 49ers are 2-0 with Rattay at the controls, and it might be difficult to sit a player with a hot hand as San Francisco attempts to remain in the playoff chase.
In his two starts, the first of his four-year career, Rattay has completed 40 of 56 passes for 490 yards, with five touchdown passes and just one interception.
The 49ers defeated the St. Louis Rams (30-10) and Pittsburgh Steelers (30-14) in those contests and the offense demonstrated more striking power than in previous games. There is a suspicion that, beyond the fans, even a few veteran players might now prefer that the 49ers keep Rattay in the lineup.
Garcia, who has demonstrated solid support of Rattay, continues to show improvement, but his left ankle is still only about 80 percent rehabilitated from the injury sustained in an Oct. 26 loss at Arizona. A three-time Pro Bowl player, Garcia did become upset last week at the notion Rattay should permanently replace him.
Garcia, 33, has suffered through a tough stretch, physically and performance-wise, over the first half of the season. He has completed 129 of 235 passes for 1,523 yards, with eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. His passer rating of 72.0 is a career low, after posting a 89.9 efficiency mark in his first four NFL seasons.
In his defense, Garcia has endured a spate of physical setbacks, which included a back injury sustained just before the start of training camp, and which some observers feared might sideline him for the entire season. Garcia has also played behind an offensive line that has been forced shuffle nearly every week because of injuries.
As previously reported on ESPN.com, the 49ers could face a tough financial decision at the quarterback position after this season. Garcia's contract stipulates that the 49ers must pay him a 2004 base salary commensurate to the qualifying offer for a "franchise" player at the position. That numbers was about $8.3 million this year and could go higher. And Garcia already has a salary cap value of more than $9 million for 2004.
In addition, Garcia has the right to void the final three years of his contract after 2004.
Rattay recently signed a contract extension, his numbers are clearly more palatable, and he has a salary cap charge of just $1.025 million for next season.
With the 49ers facing decisions on a number of pending unrestricted free agents -- Owens, strongside linebacker Julian Peterson and cornerback Ahmed Plummer among them -- Garcia's contract status could become an issue.