Garcia garners top NFC honor

With Jeff Garcia, it's a weekly thing.

That is, we've seen the guy get better practically every week since he took over last season as the 49ers' undisputed starting quarterback. After his record-setting, Pro Bowl season in 2000, he has been gaining acclaim this year on a weekly basis as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Nobody did it better this past week.

For his performance in leading the Niners past the New Orleans Saints 28-27 last Sunday, Garcia has been named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. It's the first time since he entered the NFL with the Niners in 1999 that Garcia has earned the NFC's top weekly honor. And it's another indication he is gaining the recognition he deserves as one of the elite quarterbacks in the game.

"He's a very underrated player in some quarters," 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said. "Some people don't appreciate the toughness the guy has, the competitive fire that he possesses, the plays that he makes to ensure that offensive drives don't dry up. In the pocket, he's as good as anyone in the National Football League."

He's not so bad outside the pocket, either. After throwing for 252 yards and tying his career-high with four touchdown passes against New Orleans and its ninth-ranked defense, Garcia climbed to the top of the NFC rankings with a 98.0 passer rating. That figure makes him the second-ranked passer in the NFL, only slightly behind Oakland's Rich Gannon, who leads the league with a 98.6 rating.

At midseason, Garcia has completed 173 of 264 passes (65.5 percent) for 1,958 yards and 17 touchdowns. Even though the Niners are much more balanced this year with a rushing game that ranks No. 2 in the NFL - and the fact that coach Steve Mariucci has said several times that he's intent on his team not needing to throw for 4,000 yards this season - Garcia is on a pace to approach or surpass several of the statistical milestones he put up last year in his breakout season, when he set a franchise record with 4,278 yards passing to go along with 31 touchdown passes.

Garcia also is third on the team with 214 yards rushing and leads the Niners at midseason with three of their five rushing touchdowns. That leaves him on pace to exceed his career-high total of 414 yards rushing last season.

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