Overtime exultation

OAKLAND - Jeff Garcia stood at his stall in the 49ers locker room late Sunday afternoon, his body aching from the incessant pounding, and boldly announced the obvious: that he had just finished the "most satisfying," most thoroughly complete win of his career.

Garcia played what he called "Jeff Garcia football," and he wouldn't get any arguments from the Oakland Raiders, who watched helplessly as Garcia ran circles around - and passed through - their defense on Oakland's home field.

To define "Jeff Garcia football," one doesn't need a Webster's Dictionary. No, a review of the film of the 49ers' thrilling, 23-20 overtime triumph over the Raiders at Network Associates Coliseum will suffice. In short, "Jeff Garcia football" can be defined by what coach Steve Mariucci casually refers to a three-dimensional element of quarterbacking - a hallmark of such former greats as Steve Young and Joe Montana. Like his predecessors Young and Montana, Garcia has an uncanny ability to make plays with his head, arms and legs.

"I really think I went out and played the way I envisioned myself playing," Garcia said after an emotional post-victory celebration. "I played 'Jeff Garcia football.' I am more into the game when I'm running around, making things happen. That's when I'm in a zone."

Garcia was magical on a day when his best receiver, Terrell Owens, had to not only fight Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson, but also a bout of leg cramps that had trainers twisting his body every which way; when the Raiders blitzed relentlessly; when running lanes were hard to find for Garrison Hearst (18 carries, 36 yards) and Kevan Barlow (15 carries, 60 yards).

But Garcia dominated the Raiders, keeping the 49ers' offense on the field for a whopping 30 consecutive plays - 13 in the final 6 minutes, 28 seconds and 17 plays in the defining, game-winning overtime drive that culminated with Jose Cortez kicking a game-winning 23-yard field goal with 6:23 remaining in the extra period. Cortez's game-winner came on a day when he missed two field goals, including a botched 27-yard attempt that could have won in at the end of regulation.

 "Jeff Garcia played a fantastic game," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said after the 49ers reached the midway point of the season with a NFC West-leading 6-2 record. "That is why he's a Pro Bowler." Back to Garcia. The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback completed 25-of-36 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns for an impressive passer rating of 111.1, and Owens torched the Raiders for 12 receptions for 191 yards, the second highest single-game total of his career. But Garcia's arm wasn't the primary story line in this one; he beat the Raiders with his scrambling ability, running 10 times for 46 yards, with many of those runs coming in crucial third-downs situations.

 Time after time, with the Raiders (4-4) desperately needing a stop, Garcia would rip off a run - and rip out Oakland's heart - with a unscripted scramble. "I thought that Garcia was really the culprit for us. We couldn't corral (Garcia) and we couldn't defense," beleaguered Raiders coach Bill Callahan said. "He single-handedly won that game today. There's no doubt in my mind."

Here's a review of Garcia's improvisational act that may have ruined what was once a promising season for the Raiders, who tied the game at 20-20 on a 10-yard touchdown blast by Charlie Garner late in the fourth quarter: Following a 48-yard return by Jimmy Williams, the 49ers set up for the potential game-winning drive at their own 46. As the 49ers worked the ball down field in the final minutes of regulation, they twice faced third-down situations. Both times, Garcia converted. First, Garcia converted a third-and-4 with a 4-yard bootleg that moved the ball to the Raiders' 20. Then, he used his arm, hitting Owens for a 9-yard gain that put the 49ers in field-goal range. Three plays later, Cortez shanked his 27-yarder, which sailed wide left as time expired.

Garcia's response? "I started thinking about the last time we played them," Garcia said. "It was a flashback to 2000." Don't remember that game, the one in which Wade Richey missed a short field goal at Candlestick Park that would have defeated the Raiders in overtime? "I just smiled," Garcia continued. "I said, 'It's water under the bridge.'"

Garcia wasn't about to allow a repeat of that 34-28 heart-breaking loss. Once the 49ers won the toss, Garcia knew he was in business. "When it came down to it," he said, "we made plays." More aptly, Garcia made plays. The Raiders' defense, already winded after spending the last six minutes of regulation on the field, had little time to catch its collective breath. In what could be the defining drive of the season, the one that may transform the 49ers into true championship contenders, Garcia willed the team 73 yards in 17 plays to set up the winning score. Of greater significance, though, is this: He converted two crucial third-down plays - the first by running for a 10-yard gain with the 49er facing a third-and-7 at their own 36. Then, three plays later, Garcia raced for what appeared to be an 11-yard gain. But the replay official ruled that Garcia was a yard short. No problem. Facing a fourth-and-1 at the Oakland 45, fullback Fred Beasley kept the chains move with a 2-yard gain. All the while, the Raiders were gasping for air.

 "I thought that was a gutsy call," Garcia said. "I think in that situation, you have to make that call." From there, Garcia turned to the running game, handing the ball off the Barlow, whose 14-yard burst inched the 49ers closer to victory. A 13-yard reception by Owens put the Niners at the Raiders' 13, and suddenly the win was just a short field goal away. For good measure, the 49ers ran the ball three more times before summoning Cortez off the sidelines with the ball resting at the 5 - and Garcia feeling a sense of professional accomplishment and pride. After Cortez won it with a 23-yard kick, the players raced into the locker room. Inside, Garcia - a reticent man not given to shows of emotion - screamed and hollered and was nearly moved to tears.

This was a benchmark moment in his life, one that could not be shared with the Garcia clan, which watched the game from their homes in Gilroy, for fear that they would not emerge from the "Black Hole" unscathed. "It has to be the most satisfying win as a professional," Garcia said. "It really feels good to be a part of this team."

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