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If Garcia's healthy, he starts

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers have no
quarterback controversy.

So says coach Dennis Erickson.

Try telling that to the fans and teammates who have two weeks to
ponder what Tim Rattay might do for an encore to his impressive
debut as an NFL starter.

Filling in for injured Jeff Garcia, Rattay went 19-of-29 for 236
yards and three touchdowns in San Francisco's revitalizing 30-10
win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

Garcia, the 49ers' starter since 1999, has been erratic and
ineffective this season -- and he isn't sure his severely sprained
ankle will be back to full strength when the 49ers (4-5) return
from their bye week to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 17.

"If Jeff is healthy and he can move around like he can move
around, he'll be the starting quarterback," said Erickson, who
gave his team a full week off Monday. "It's as simple as that."

That's a big if, however: Garcia has been limited by injuries
since hurting his back during an offseason workout, and his
longtime backup stepped in without a hitch. The 49ers' definition
of full health could differ from Garcia's ideas, because the
undersized quarterback has played with injuries throughout his
career.

But among the people whose opinions really count, there's no
animosity or uncertainty. Garcia and Rattay are close friends, and
both believe Garcia is the unquestioned starter.

"When I'm healthy, I'm going to be the guy. I think I've earned
that right," Garcia said. "By the same token, I'm not going to be
the person that's going to put this team in a difficult position by
being selfish. ... (A controversy) is something that's going to be
a natural conversation piece. It's pretty much unavoidable."

Few teams can match the 49ers' quarterback lineage -- and few
towns enjoy a quarterback controversy more than San Francisco.
Rattay became the seventh straight backup quarterback to win his
first start for the 49ers in a streak dating back to Steve Young's
first start in place of Joe Montana in 1990.

Garcia started 61 straight games for the 49ers before Sunday,
making the last three Pro Bowls while passing for 15,227 yards
since 1999. The Bay Area native's reckless but intelligent playing
style has propelled him to NFL stardom despite his average size and
arm strength.

Rattay is even an inch shorter than the 6-foot-1 Garcia, but the
former seventh-round draft pick has a stronger arm and more
traditional skills. He has excelled as a pocket passer in the West
Coast offense after learning the game at Louisiana Tech, where he
finished his career second in NCAA history with 12,746 yards
passing.

"Not having started in so long, I was kind of trying to
remember how it felt to do that," Rattay said. "I was really
excited and really looking forward to it. There was a little
nervousness, but after that first snap, you're just playing
football like you're done since you were little."

After beating the Rams, Rattay's coaches praised his
decision-making and aggressiveness -- typically two areas in which
inexperienced quarterbacks struggle.

He also was confident making audibles at the line. Two of his
touchdown passes involved improvisation: rookie Brandon Lloyd's
diving 27-yard TD catch shortly before halftime, and Tai Streets'
exceptional leaping 5-yard grab in the third quarter.

After watching film Monday morning, even Rattay didn't have many
complaints about his work. Neither did his coaches.

"He didn't make any mistakes," Erickson said of Rattay. "You
always worry about somebody in his first start, and he didn't do
it. You practice to be the guy, and when your time comes you're
ready to go, and he was."

The 49ers must make a second-half surge to remain in contention
for their third straight trip to the playoffs, Garcia and Rattay
agree the quarterback must lead it -- whoever that may be.

"It's one game, and you can't get overly excited," Rattay
said. "Just like one bad game doesn't make a career."