Garcia NFL's best of Wild Card Week

Jeff Garcia played like a quarterback possessed in the final 20 minutes against the New York Giants last weekend, leading the 49ers on scoring drives the final four times they touched the football, which was good enough to give San Francisco the second-greatest comeback in NFL playoff history. It also was good enough to give Garcia the honor as NFL Offensive Player of Wild Card Weekend.

"It's just an honor that I share with my teammates," Garcia said late Wednesday afternoon. "Obviously, I wasn't out there alone."


But Garcia was the one directing the charge, the one leading the 49ers from way, way behind, from a 38-14 deficit with 4:27 to play in the third quarter to a magical 39-38 victory that pushed the Niners into the divisional round on Sunday at Tampa Bay.


After the Giants took that 24-point lead, Garcia completed 19 of his next 28 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, also completing two 2-point conversion passes and running for a 14-yard score.


Garcia finished 27 of 44 for 331 yards and three touchdowns, his passing yardage tying Joe Montana for the third-highest playoff total in franchise history. He also rushed for a team-high 60 yards, averaging 8.6 a carry.


And he compiled most of those yards through the air and on the ground by making plays when it counted – with the Niners needing them at practically every juncture as they scored 25 points in the final 17:03.


"I don't know if I will truly grasp the greatness of it until I'm probably not playing the game anymore, when I see it on ESPN Classic or something," Garcia said of the victory.


Garcia didn't spend much time basking in the honor Wednesday as the Niners began preparations for Tampa Bay, which features the NFL's No.-1 ranked defense. That unit obviously will be trying to limit Garcia from improvising to make plays the same way he burned New York in that fashion.


"I realize they've been able to do a great job of containing quarterbacks because of the team speed that they have," Garcia said. "I don't run like a (Michael) Vick, I don't run like many of these other quarterbacks in the league as far as speed goes, I kind of use it more somewhat to buy time. I'm not always looking to just run up field but more so to buy more time to allow my receivers to work and find openings and creating plays in that way."


Garcia didn't need to win any NFC honors to get Tampa Bay's attention. Buccaneers' coach Jon Gruden – who opted not to sign Garcia after the quarterback had a tryout in 1999 with Oakland when Gruden was coach of the Raiders – is well aware of what San Francisco's Pro Bowl quarterback can do.


And Gruden says his team will be well aware of it on Sunday, too.


"I applaud Jeff Garcia personally after competing with him in previous employment," Gruden said. "I think he's a great player, a truly great football player. He's an unbelievable competitor and very talented and I let him know that I certainly whiffed and missed on that (1999) evaluation."


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