During week 14 of the NFL season, the 49ers' playoff hopes were officially blown out into the San Francisco bay when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Dallas Cowboys. But there are still a few 49ers with postseason hopes. On February 4, 2001, the NFL will present the 51st annual Pro Bowl and the 22nd that will be played in Hawaii, where at least two 49ers should be present at the All-Star game.

The first of these two players is the most obvious choice. The 49ers' 2000 season has been somewhat of a mess. However, buried in that mess is the foundation of a bright future. One of these bright spots has been yet another NFL feel good story in quarterback Jeff Garcia. Garcia has been making a strong case for himself that he is the team's quarterback of the future and now he is starting to make not only the organization believe…but the fans as well.

As of week 15, Garcia is fourth in the league and second in the NFC in completion percentage at 61.3%. He is third in the league and first in the NFC in passing yards with 3688. He is fourth in the NFC with 7.7 yards per completion. Garcia is tied for second place in touchdown passes with the Colt's Payton Manning who also has 28 and the second year 49er only has 9 interceptions on the season. Many of those picks coming at the end of games that were already well in hand by the opposing team. Finally, he is fourth in the league and third in the NFC with a 98.6 quarterback rating. Not bad for a guy that was pulled during week 2 against the Carolina Panthers and replaced by backup journeyman Rick Mirer right?

Now, 13 weeks later after the week 2 substitution, Jeff Garcia has established himself as the team leader. 49ers' fullback Fred Beasley remembers a time when Garcia wasn't so confident. "When Jeff got in the huddle, his actions basically said, If you don't know what you are doing, don't ask me, because I'm learning too" Beasley remembers. Now he has gained the respect he deserves. Other teams respect him as well. In fact, after the controversial October 15th loss to the Green Bay Packers, safety LeRoy Butler was quoted calling Garcia one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. High praise coming from a guy that watches future Hall of Famer Brett Farve every Sunday. It is pretty obvious that Garcia is not responsible for the 49ers' 5-9 season. Only the team's second losing campaign since the strike shortened 1982 season.

Just as Steve Young had to get out of the shadow of another legend named Joe Montana, Garcia must get out of the shadow of both of these former 49er quarterbacks. This is a lot to ask of any man. What you may not know about Garcia is what he had to go through in order to be in the position that he is. The 6'1", 195lb Niner is from Gilroy, California, a town just 60 miles south of San Francisco. He is lucky to even be around at all. Just thirteen months before Jeff was born, Linda Garcia, his mom, lost twin girls when they were born prematurely. On an unhappy Mother's Day when Jeff was seven years old, his mother had a miscarriage. To make matters worse, Jeff lost his brother Jason when he drowned during a vacation in the Mammoth Lakes. Over a year later, Jeff lost yet another sibling when his sister Kimberly died of internal injuries in a dump truck accident. It was a childhood that may have traumatized any other person but seems to have made Jeff stronger. Now it's just the Garcia 5 which consists of Bob, his father, Linda, his mother, and Melissa and Jené, his 21 and 22 year old sisters.

When Jeff went to college, no one would offer him a scholarship so he played for his dad at Gavilan Community College before moving on to San Jose State. From there, no NFL teams would give him a look so he went up north and played behind current Buffalo Bill Doug Flutie for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Then after the 1998 season, he got his first shot at the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. He looked good in camp and wowed the team in a 31-24 preseason win over the San Diego Chargers going 13 of 18 for 163 yards. That was enough to convince the front office and coaching staff that this guy may turn out to be something special. It definitely was the beginning of something special even though Garcia had his ups and downs. But it wasn't until a December 5th start against the Bengels that Garcia started playing like the man he was brought in to take over for. He went 33 of 49 for 437 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 44-30 loss and he never looked back. Garcia is the 49ers' man and should be for some time. It couldn't have happened to a better guy.

More Niners have February hopes

The Vikings' Randy Moss has the bigger name among the fans and it is showing in the Pro Bowl balloting. While Moss has the better numbers at this point in time, you have to take the entire season into consideration. Halfway through the season, Moss only had 40 catches for 686 yards and eight touchdowns. 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens had 57 catches, 808 yards and 11 touchdowns. At this point in the season, Owens, whose time has been limited due to a foot injury, has 74 catches (two more than Moss), has 1133 yards receiving, and is only one touchdown behind Moss with 12 which is third in the NFC. Owens is more of your all purpose receiver than Moss as he can beat you to the outside, up the middle, and wrestle you for the reception and yards after the catch whereas Moss is more a pure deep receiver who depends on separation and big plays. Both players deserve to be there but Owens might get beat out of the starting job by yet another big name in St. Louis named Isaac Bruce who has more yards and receptions, but doesn't match Owens' productivity getting into the endzone.

49ers running back Charlie Garner is having another big season in only his second year with the team. He has broken the 1000 yard mark yet again but is only fourth in the NFC behind the obvious February 4th starter, Marshall Faulk of the Rams, the Redskins' Stephen Davis, and the Cowboys' Emmitt Smith. He is only seventh in the NFC with 7 rushing touchdowns. But if the 49ers use him effectively for the remaining two games, he can easily move into 4th place as Ricky Williams, Emmitt Smith, and Ahman Green, who all lead him by one.

Other Pro Bowl hopefuls include offensive lineman Ray Brown whose chances are good. Fan favorite Ken Norton Jr. is doing well in the balloting and may be able to take advantage of a Hawaiian vacation.

Defensive tackle Bryant Young has an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to gain ground on Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp, Vikings' John Randle, Saints' La'Roi Glover, and Redskins' Dana Stubblefield.

As much as 49ers fans want to believe players like fullback Fred Beasley will attend, that may not be a reality as other players may jump ahead in the NFC depth chart. In reality, you may only see three, and under an extreme circumstance, four 49ers move on to the NFL's All-Star game.

What's up with that?

49ers fans should not feel so bad about Sunday's 31-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints. It's always bad when controversial calls kill your chances at a win. It was worse when the Green Bay Packers beat the 49ers during week 7 because at that point, they were not out of the hunt despite the 2-4 record going into the matchup. A terrible pass interference call against cornerback Jason Webster lead to the Packers' winning touchdown; a win that may have sparked the team. There is a huge difference in being 3-4 and being 2-5. There were two back-to-back controversial calls in Sunday's game at the one-yard line in the final one and a half minutes.

With the 49ers up 27-24, Saints' running back Chad Morton fumbled the ball into the endzone. The officials called it Saints' ball and the drive continued. Later, replays would reveal what actually happened and determined that it should have been the 49ers ball at the 20 yard line where they would have ran out the clock for the win.

On the very next play, Saints fullback Terrelle Smith fumbled the ball trying to go in for the score and it was recovered by 49ers linebacker Artie Ulmer. What did the officials see? Saints' center Jerry Fontenot and 49ers' tackle Bryant Young wrestling for the ball and decided to give it to Fontenot. The Saints would then have running back Terry Allen run it in for 6 on the final Saints offensive strike. Later, replays revealed that Ulmer did get hold of the ball and it should have been the 49er offense's turn to take the field for what could have been the win.

"These guys shouldn't be able to decide a game like that. It should be whoever comes up with the loose ball," said Ulmer.

Fontenot also sounded confident saying, "I had control. I think. At least that's what they said." Real sure of himself there.

49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. was more vocal yelling, "You f***ing screwed us!" And you know what? He was correct.

Niner fans should count Sunday as a big win even if the scoreboard says differently. The team stopped the Saints' passing game for about 75% of the game before Ahmed Plummer got hurt. In fact, all quarterback Aaron Brooks could muster for most of the game was running around avoiding getting hit as he gathered an impressive 108 yards on the ground leading his team in that category. Second year player Aaron Brooks will be a star in this league but the even younger 49ers secondary taught him a lesson or two that day. With all playoff hopes out the window, there is no reason to not count Sunday's official loss as a well-fought win.