Garcia suddenly has a pleasing spring to his step
January 10, 2003
49ers' success against Tampa Bay may depend on quarterback's feet
Kevin Lynch, Chronicle Staff Writer
Jeff Garcia does the same thing every Wednesday afternoon at the same time. Wearing his loose 49ers sweats inside out, the San Francisco quarterback emerges from the locker room and spends 15 to 20 minutes with a media horde to answer questions about the upcoming opponent or his own offense.
For the past few weeks, Garcia has used the sessions to unburden his mind. Two weeks ago, he talked about the immense pressure of being the 49ers' quarterback. Last week, he said he craves his solitude and mentioned that demands from media and others had "taken its toll."
So what about this week? Here is Garcia about to enter the inhospitable confines of Tampa's Raymond James Stadium to face the league's top-ranked defense -- a defense of such ferociousness it has been compared with the title- winning Ravens' defense of two years ago.
Garcia not only should be concerned with getting embarrassed on national television, the spindly quarterback should be worried about his health.
"It's a situation where we are excited to be here," Garcia said of facing the Buccaneers in the divisional playoffs Sunday. "It's going to be the ultimate challenge playing the top defense in the league. Let's just go out there with smiles on our faces and do the best we can. That's all I can ask out of myself."
Garcia seemed loose and unconcerned, more so than at any time all season. He smiled, laughed, talked about meeting Vanna White on "Wheel of Fortune." He appeared on the game show this week.
He spent part of Wednesday with his father, Bob Garcia. Jeff Garcia went through the paces of the week with a light-hearted zest.
Maybe Garcia is still lingering in the postgame haze of the team's stunning 39-38 comeback victory over the Giants. Maybe he feels he finally is emerging into the sun, and out of the long shadows cast by Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Maybe he feels the pressure has relented. After all, the 49ers are five- point underdogs to the Buccaneers.
Whatever the reason, Garcia's attitude seems to be the right one going in to face a team that has the capacity to pulverize quarterbacks and neutralize the best offenses.
If one team could be labeled the NFL's bully, it's Tampa Bay. It completely smothered Michael Vick in its two wins over the Falcons.
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said Garcia's experience might give him more of an advantage than the 22-year-old Vick. Garcia feels his style matches up well against Bucs.
"I don't run like Vick, or many other quarterbacks in the league," Garcia said. "I just use (running) to buy time to allow my receivers to find openings and make plays."
Garcia is not as apt to flee as Vick. His game is more like New Orleans' Aaron Brooks, who also uses his elusiveness to adjust in the pocket. The Saints beat the Buccaneers twice this season.
In one of the Bucs' other losses, a 17-7 thumping by the Steelers, Pittsburgh beat Tampa Bay with a strong running game.
Garcia, who always advocates opening up the offense, doesn't deny the importance of the run in this game.
"I think we're a very disciplined offense in many ways," Garcia said. "I think one of the things we have to do is try to establish the ground attack."
Knapp contends there will be opportunities in the passing game, despite the fact the Bucs own the league's best pass defense.
"You have a chance to get some chunks (of yardage)," Knapp said. "Pittsburgh got some plays early on them. You have to pick your spots, and when that chance comes, you have to hit on it."
The Steelers caught the Buccaneers shifting. Tampa Bay tends to bring up their safety in an eight-man front, and then will drop defenders into coverage.
The Steelers were able to catch the Bucs retreating.
That, along with mixing in a steady running game, is the way the Steelers and Saints broke the code on the mighty Tampa Bay defense.
"You are not going to get many 20-yard (runs), or 15 yarders for that matter because of their speed," Knapp said. "Four yards a crack is fine."
If the 49ers can do that, Garcia might once again trot out Wednesday of next week in his loose sweats. Then he'll talk about his team's prospects in the NFC title game.
Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.