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Jeff Garcia, like the team he quarterbacks, is facing new tests with every game. And he’s passing them.
Jeff Garcia made a significant statement with his performance on Sunday vs. the Falcons. His entire day may have been summed up in his last-second throw to Terrell Owens to tie the game in regulation. It was a hard, tough, perfectly spinning bullet that split three Atlanta players and smacked Owens right on the hands. It was a pass that could not have been any higher, lower, to the right or to the left. It was a pass that was full of confidence. A pass from a quarterback used to overcoming odds; from a quarterback accustomed to recognizing what has to be done and how to do it, on and off the field.
It was with that same confidence that Garcia won the game in overtime, setting up the Falcon’s Ray Buchanan with a pump fake and then lofting a perfect, arching pass to Owens down the right sideline. You could practically see Buchanan’s shoulders slumping even before Owens had reached the 20. The game was over.
He ran the offense with an amazing calm on the last drive. Facing a first-and-fifteen on the 49ers 23-yard line, he whipped a pass into the left flat to Hearst for 8 yards and a 15-yard pass to Owens that was perfectly placed between two defenders, in front of Owens and low.
Just like that, it’s first down at midfield. Garcia finished the drive 5-of-6 for 59 yards and rushed twice for 14 more yards.
The 49ers grew, as well. The latest notches in the experience belt? Sweeping an NFC West foe for the first time since 1998. Coming back from a 14-0 first quarter and 20-7 halftime deficits. Topping 500 yards of offense. And for many of the players on the roster, their first professional 4-1 record.
The playcalling was far more aggressive, and the 49ers finally started throwing on first down more often. They also threw deep on a third-and-one that produced Owens 33-yard touchdown in the third. The playcalling was superb. Mariucci never abandoned the running game but still loosened the reins on Garcia to throw the ball down the field. Part of this was forced on him by the score, but the way the 49ers moved the ball in that second half confirms that future offensive gamelans should mirror what we saw Sunday.
The 49ers still need to get the offense churning a little earlier in the game. The 49ers have punted on their first drive in every game and again had no offense early, carrying only seven points and five first downs into halftime. It would help if they found ways to get Terrell Owens the ball earlier in the game. He is the one player on offense that presents immediate matchup problems for a defense, regardless of who is lined up opposite him. He caught all nine of his passes after halftime against two very good Falcon corners in Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose. Why wait until then? Get him the ball right away. I think this will be crucial against Chicago, whose beefy front seven will be tough to run on. Owens needs to be the main man on offense.
The other guy who needs to get some more throws is Tai Streets. I think that Streets is starting to make his move up to the #2 spot on the receiving depth chart. He caught five passes and was far more effective than Stokes. He also can make things happen after the catch – when was the last time #83 did that? JJ has been a major disappointment. Again.
The pass rush is coming along slowly, too. They picked up a bit in the second half when defensive coordinator Jim Mora, Jr. started putting in a few blitz packages, but they often gave Chris Chandler plenty of time to throw, which is dangerous. But as long as we have the Gilroy Kid slinging for us, we’ll be OK.