Rattay goes 2-1 in Garcia's absence
Garcia received the seal of approval from coach Dennis Erickson on Wednesday after he practiced with the first team without displaying any effects of the high ankle sprain that forced him out of the lineup in October.
"He looked pretty sharp today," Erickson said. "He moved around and threw it well. He's fairly close to 100 percent. I look at him right now, and he's probably healthier than he was at the beginning of the year."
Garcia has been plagued all season by injuries. The three-time Pro Bowler entered training camp with a bulging disk in his back and later experienced problems with his groin and throwing arm.
A sprained left ankle against Arizona on Oct. 26 ended Garcia's run of 61 consecutive regular-season starts, a team record for quarterbacks. Backup Tim Rattay went 2-1 in Garcia's place, leading the 49ers to lopsided victories over St. Louis and Pittsburgh that rejuvenated San Francisco's playoff hopes.
Rattay was pressured constantly and sacked four times in last week's 20-10 loss at Green Bay.
Garcia didn't dress for the Nov. 2 St. Louis game, which was followed by San Francisco's bye week. He was designated as the team's emergency No. 3 quarterback for the Pittsburgh game and was Rattay's backup last week.
With a month to heal, Garcia expects to return against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday healthier than he has been all year.
"I'm definitely more fresh than I've felt all season long," Garcia said. "I don't feel like the ankle is holding me back at all. This month of basically laying low and being off my feet and trying to recover from the ankle sprain, it's allowed everything else to heal up, too. It's to a point where I'm ready to get back on the field."
Garcia struggled through the first half of the season, throwing eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions in eight games.
His passer rating of 72.0 ranks 24th in the league, well below his career rating of 88.0 which ranks third in league history.
Rattay produced a passer rating of 120.4 in the victories over St. Louis and Pittsburgh before running into problems last week.
With a 5-6 record and their playoff hopes on the edge of extinction, the Niners are ready for their regular quarterback to return.
"He's the leader," fullback Fred Beasley said. "It means a lot to get him back out there. Rattay came in and did a great job, did what he's supposed to do. But Jeff is our guy. We're behind him, and hopefully we can use that to our advantage this week."
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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