Garcia leaving lasting impressions on 49ers

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia has been named to the NFC Pro Bowl team in his first two seasons as the team's full-time starter.

Clearly, he had already established himself as one of the top signal-callers in the league. But Garcia is showing something other than extraordinary individual statistics this season.

Garcia is showing that he is a winner.

Garcia had the type of game Sunday against the Oakland Raiders that could be looked back upon as the game in which Garcia showed that he was capable of doing for the 49ers what Joe Montana did and what Steve Young did.

Garcia willed the 49ers to a 23-20 overtime victory - the kind of performance the quarterback will need to produce into January for the 49ers to have a chance of going all the way this season.

"Jeff Garcia may have played his finest game as a 49er," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "He completed his last 14 passes, he ran for some crucial first downs and managed the field and the clock. Jeff has been better in big games this year than ever before."

Even Raiders coach Bill Callahan said Garcia "won that game single-handedly for them."

The short-term effect of the 49ers' victory over the Raiders is that they are 6-2 and in total control of the NFC West heading into their game Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs at Candlestick Park.

Garcia has also earned the respect of his teammates and is now viewed as a quarterback who has what it takes to win a championship.
"If you have Jeff, you have a chance," 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said. "He's a champion. He was getting mauled out there and he just kept coming back at them. He and this team showed real football character. It was a huge win."

Donahue sat in on the meetings in the spring of 1999 when then-general manager Bill Walsh talked about signing Garcia and sending backup quarterback Ty Detmer off to the Cleveland Browns in a trade.

At no time during those meetings did Walsh say anything about Garcia developing into a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Garcia did prove to be a winner in the Canadian Football League, however, where he led the Calgary Stampeders to the Grey Cup title in his final season.

Garcia has exceeded all expectations, even after Donahue made it his first act as GM to award Garcia with a six-year, $36 million contract on the eve of training camp in 2001.

So now, after Garcia's best game in the NFL, Walsh is not bashful about including the 49ers' quarterback with the great players who came before him.

"Garcia to me was outstanding, every decision he made, whenever he ran," Walsh said. "That performance was as good as Joe Montana or Steve Young or anybody else. I don't think anybody is better in football for handling himself or making decisions and running for first downs."

Obviously, Garcia's true value to the 49ers cannot be measured in statistics. Against the Raiders, he completed 25 of 36 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He did all of his best work in the clutch, as he completed 17 of 19 passes in the second half.

Garcia also rushed 10 times for 46 yards, including two third-down scampers in overtime to lead to the winning points, which came on Jose Cortez's 23-yard field goal.

Nobody else in the organization may have thought Garcia could play like this, but Garcia said he is not surprising himself. He gets it done in unorthodox fashion. Garcia never sets his feet in the pocket and often nearly jumps out of his shoes when he throws.

Fox TV studio analyst Terry Bradshaw recently said that Garcia has the ugliest mechanics he has ever seen. None of that really seems to matter, though. When he's at his ugliest, is typically when he's at his best.

"I played the way I envisioned myself playing," Garcia said. "I played Jeff Garcia football. There have been comments about my quarterback play not being to the norm. I'm more into the game when I move around and make things happen. That's when I'm in my zone."

Garcia has clearly won over the locker room. Players on offense and defense have a confidence that their quarterback is capable of willing them to a victory.

Garcia not only led the game-winning drive in overtime. He engineered a 13-play drive at the end of regulation that resulted in a missed field goal. In the huddle, Garcia talked. More important, he backed it up.

"You have to give a lot of credit to Jeff," 49ers right tackle Scott Gragg said. "I don't know how many times he got it done on third down. He was just awesome out there. He was screaming to us, 'Get it done' and 'Let's score and get out of here.' Then he follows that up with those plays. I just have so much respect for that guy and how he plays the game."

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