It’s amazing to see what a bad performance in a big game can do to your reputation. Last week, Jeff Garcia’s name was being mentioned alongside Kurt Warner and Brett Favre. Yet this week, after playing more like Jerry Garcia, he is being treated to some more humbling references. Perhaps the harshest came from Pro Football Weekly, which stated that Garcia looked like “the free agent nobody wanted” two years ago.

It’s a pretty precipitous fall, but one to be expected from a guy that a lot of people around the country have never seen play, much less in a big game. The game against New Orleans was a test. So was the Bears game, but Sunday’s contest was one of those games where aspiring teams, and aspiring quarterbacks, really learn where they stand. And the news is not good for Garcia.

He was dreadful. He was worse than dreadful. The opening play of the game set the tone: Garcia threw about as bad a pass as you can possibly throw to a wide-open Terrell Owens running a deep post. Somehow, despite the Rams’ focus on him, Owens was running free at midfield with no defender within ten yards of him. An average-to-good throw and the 49ers have a 73-yard touchdown.  A somewhat-bad throw would still have produced a big play. But the ball was nowhere near Owens.

You cannot give the Rams defense credit on that one. It was the first play of game. No tempo had been set. The Rams’ defensive packages can’t set in. There was time to throw. How do you explain a guy who has been paying with ice in his veins all year – who has been making clutch throws in the fourth quarter and overtime – making so bad a throw in so big a game? That play would have gone a long way towards setting the tone in the 49ers’ favor. Garcia also later underthrew Owens in the endzone on his leaping attempt (which also got Owens’ hurt) and missed him again before their touchdown in the second quarter. His first interception was also a very bad pass.

The Rams applied some pressure, but even a puzzled Kim Herring, the Rams safety, said afterwards that Garcia “had happy feet even when he didn’t have any pressure.” Garcia simple appeared fazed and out of sync from the first whistle.

Granted, Garcia was not helped by the fact that he has no other wideouts that defenses respect outside of Owens. Stokes is a joke –he’s one of the worst starting wideouts in the league and incapable of making a play. Regardless of how you feel about #83, the fact is that he is one of the least productive starters in football. He ranks 67th in the NFL in yards gained on an offense that is #2 in the league. He plays with a Pro Bowl quarterback and opposite a Pro Bowl receiver. Yet of the league’s top ten offenses, only the Chiefs get less from their #2 wideout. Pathetic. Streets, who has a frail frame and can be pushed around, is simply not stepping up against nickel corners like he should be. Eric Johnson is a pleasant surprise and playing better all the time, but it still a rookie and undersized at his position. And has anybody even detected a whiff of Cedric Wilson?

With the 49ers picking in the late to late-middle of the first round next year, one wonders if the 49ers might take a receiver. There are more needs on defense, but you get better value at wide receiver in the last first. The best defensive linemen are almost always gone in the first 10 to 15 picks.

People will view Garcia with a little bit more of a critical eye from here on out. The line now on Garcia is that he is good quarterback who hasn’t proven he can handle the big game. He has a bit of a chance to redeem himself vs. two good teams in Miami and Philadelphia in the next two weeks, but the only thing that will completely erase the perception created by Sunday’s performance will be a playoff victory over a top team – such as Green Bay or the Rams.

Missing the Numbers – More Fallout from the Rams
Not surprisingly, the 49ers only achieved one of the seven keys to defeating the Rams from my article last week.

Keys #1 and #2: The 49ers needed 150 yards rushing and ten more minutes of possession. They gained half of that, 76, and lost the time of possession by ten minutes. Grade: F

Key #3: Terrell Owens needed 8 catches and 2 touchdowns; he finished with 3 catches and 54 yards. This failure was more on Garcia’s shoulders than Owens’. Grade: F

Keys #4 and #5: Ricky Proehl and Az-Zahir Hakim beat up on Rashad Holman and George McCullough to the tune of 10 catches and 119 yards – nowhere near the 5 catches or less that they needed to hold them to. Grade: F

Keys #6 and #7: The one good sign was that the 49ers reached their pass rush goal: ten quarterback hurries and five knockdowns. The pass rush, while still shaky, probably had their best performance of the year. Warner still had all day to throw on a few plays, but he was under some degree of pressure on most plays. Not exactly a Pro Bowl performance, but based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s a step in the right direction. Andre Carter had some very good moves, which is very encouraging. The 49ers did lose the most important key #7: force turnovers. They finished even with the Rams at two apiece – which a big victory for the Rams. Grade C-

One out of seven? Not good.

What good can we take away from the game? The defense played pretty well. When you consider that they were on the field for 40 minutes, holding the Rams to 385 yards and 6 second-half points is pretty darn good. The Rams biggest playmakers – Bruce, Holt, and Faulk – were all contained. Faulk averaged 3.5 yards per carry and never had a run more than 15 yards. The Rams’ first two scores came on a 41-yard drive (which they needed 12 plays and two fourth downs to convert) and a 38-yard drive. Hard to fault the defense there. To hold the Rams to 13 points in the final three quarters is even more amazing.

The Miami Dolphins and the Philadelphia Eagles both have defenses that rank in the top eight in the league. The 49ers need better play from Garcia and better plays to get the ball to Owens. Most importantly, they need to start establishing their offense early in the game. If not, we could easily be a 10-6 team after a 9-2 start.