Jeff Garcia finally got over on the St. Louis Rams last week, and then he finally got even as the 49ers starting quarterback. Not only did Garcia get his first victory against the nemesis Rams since coming to San Francisco, he also got back to .500 after losing 16 of his first 20 games as the team's starter. Now Garcia feels both he and the San Francisco offense are on the way back after a slow start to the 2002 season.
The Niners' 37-13 rout of the Rams improved Garcia's record to 23-23 in regular-season games as San Francisco's starter. Although he is 15-5 the past two seasons, Garcia had an interesting response when asked if it felt like he'd won more games or lost more as the Niners' starter.
"I think I still feel like I've probably lost more games," he said. "That's kind of a bad thing. I've always thought of myself as a winner and want to be known as a winner, but obviously I had some big-time struggles when I first got here. Those first two years, in a lot of ways, we're still trying to recover from that, and we have, we have done a great job of recovering. But it's not necessarily completely behind us. I think we're still having to prove to people that we're not that same team that we were just two seasons ago. And in lot of ways, I'm still having to prove myself as not being that same quarterback that I was that first year that I came into the league."
Garcia has had to deal with that scenario in recent weeks after his sub-par play contributed to a slow start to the season by the offense. Last week, Garcia deflected suggestions that he was in a slump. Then he went out against the Rams and had his finest game of the season. Not so consequently, the Niners also had their finest game of the season.
"I'm the guy pulling the trigger at the quarterback position," Garcia said. "People look at that and people focus on that. There are definitely high expectations out there for me as a player. People just weren't quite sure whether I could fulfill that role, and over the past three seasons of being here, I've slowly proven myself and proven to people that I can fulfill that tole. And all of a sudden, when you start to struggle a little bit, those doubts start to come back in people.
"Not that I ever lost my confidence or anything like that, but I think it was just important for me to kind of regain my attitude, as far as having the mentality of going out, having fun, playing with excitement, playing with emotion, getting fired up and running around and doing the things that make the game fun for me. That's what it's all about. I think I did some of that (against the Rams) and it was a huge step in the right direction."
Garcia led the 49ers on scoring drives the first four times they had the football, the first time that had happened in San Francisco's past 32 games. Garcia was a shockingly low 24th in the NFL passer ratings after four weeks. But against the Rams, he both passed and ran for a touchdown for the eighth time in his career, and generally displayed the skills that made him a Pro Bowler the past two seasons.
"It was kind of like I just needed to pick my head up and kind of start walking high again, not hang my head and think about some of the things that we've been going through the last few weeks," Garcia said. "But more so let's build on something, let's do something better on the football field, let's get this thing headed back in the right direction."
Sort of like both Garcia and the Niners have been doing throughout the past two-plus seasons. Garcia has gone 19-7 as San Francisco's starting quarterback after that 4-16 start.
"I think that says a lot for myself and a lot of this team as to where we were and how far we've come in the three-plus years that I've been starting," Garcia said. "There definitely was a large hole that was dug and it was something where I've been struggling to climb out of that hole for the past year-a-half. And now it's kind of like we've seen the light, and let's keep building on it. There's a lot of positive things that are being built right now within this team."