Is big-game best making Garcia great?

Are we witnessing the best of Jeff Garcia? The Pro Bowl quarterback was both brilliant and amazing while leading the 49ers past the Raiders last weekend. But, predictably, Garcia still thinks he has room to improve. Those around him, however, say he clearly is at the top of his game – or any quarterback's game. "That performance was as good as Steve Young, Joe Montana or anybody else," gushed Bill Walsh, the man responsible for bringing Garcia to San Francisco.

Walsh ought to know. He's also the man who brought both Montana and Young to San Francisco.


"I don't see how any of them could have done better," continued Walsh, the one-time Niners' coach and general manager who's now a team consultant. "Every decision he made – the tough runs on third down, my gosh. You couldn't have asked for more from any of the quarterbacks we've ever had. It's just incredible, the poise and presence he has. That was his best game."


It was just more than a month ago that many fans and observers were crying about what was wrong with Garcia, who was just 24th in the NFL passer ratings coming out of the team's bye week on Sept. 29. Now, after a string of marvelous performances, Garcia has improved that rating from 72.8 to 94.5. That places him second in the NFC and fifth in the NFL.


But that's a reflection on Garcia's passing. This guy also does it with his feet. And that's what made Garcia's effort in Sunday's 23-20 overtime victory memorable. In addition to completing 25 of 36 passes for a season-high 282 yards, Garcia also kept plays – and drives – alive by scrambling for 46 yards on 10 carries.


"Jeff Garcia played maybe his finest game as a 49er," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "He ran for some crucial first downs, managed the clock, managed the game. They were bringing the kitchen sink, and Jeff was great at avoiding the rush and scrambling and making plays. No question about it, Jeff Garcia's been better in big games this year than ever before."


Said Oakland coach Bill Callahan after Garcia burned his Raiders, "He single-handedly won that game, there's no doubt in my mind."

Make no mistake about it - this is praise Garcia has worked hard for while overcoming adversity to attain. But when he returned to practice Wednesday after two off days for 49ers' players, Garcia shrugged off suggestions that he is playing at his best.


"I look at the film," Garcia said, "and I look at ways that I can still continue to improve. I think that I'm getting more comfortable every single day with my role in this offense, with my decision-making, I think that it's been a work in progress. I think that there's still room to improve, though. And that's the harshness I'm going to maintain on myself. As long as I keep pushing myself to get better, I'm going to be best for this team."


And that is up there with some of the best the Niners ever have had at the position.


"Is he right there with Joe and Steve as the next great 49er quarterback?" 11th-year Niners tackle Derrick Deese said. "You don't have to ask anybody in this locker room."




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