Hands-on defense spoils Garcia's return

3 of QB's 4 interceptions were touched by 49ers

Ravens 44, 49ers 6

Nfl Week 13

December 01, 2003|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Not in his wildest dreams did San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia think his return from a three-week, injury-related layoff would be "like a bad nightmare coming true."

But his performance in yesterday's 44-6 loss to the Ravens was just that, and in the process of producing three touchdowns and a field goal from Garcia's four interceptions, the Ravens' defense took the "tip drill" to new heights.

Two of their steals glanced off the arms of receivers, and another off a lineman's helmet.

"It seemed like all four interceptions, one way or another, were deflected," said Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowl pick who had missed three games with a high ankle sprain. "It was one of those situations where when it started to go downhill, it went downhill fast."

So fast that in one afternoon, a quarterback controversy has developed: Garcia (14-for-29 for 112 yards and no touchdowns) was yanked with 11:37 to play in favor of fourth-year player Tim Rattay, and coach Dennis Erickson won't commit to who gets the nod next week.

"It wasn't Jeff's best game by any means, but I don't make any [personnel] decisions like that after an emotional game like this where we got our butts kicked," Erickson said. "Like everybody else on our team, like at every position, we'll evaluate it."

Garcia entered the game as one of the 49ers' most decorated quarterbacks, having become their first to average 300 or more completions in three straight seasons. But unlike the Ravens' defenders, he couldn't quite put a finger on the miscues.

"It wasn't so much that the interceptions were a case of poor decisions. A couple of times, I was a little off target. A couple of times, their D-linemen got a helmet or a hand on the ball. How do you speak to that?" Garcia said. "I didn't feel rusty. I went out and tried to make good decisions. At times, we had no open windows out there."

Garcia faced second-and-seven at his 41-yard line on the 49ers' first series when Ed Hartwell's 26-yard interception return to the 49ers' 30 set up Jamal Lewis' 6-yard run three plays later. It was 7-0 with 11:27 remaining in the first quarter.

The 49ers were within 7-3 with 9:03 left in the first quarter after Todd Peterson's 48-yard field goal. But the game might have been tied if not for two dropped passes -- one by Cedrick Wilson inside the 10-yard line with an open seam toward the end zone.

The was similar failure after a second-quarter fumble recovery had given the 49ers first-and-10 at the Ravens' 30. On third-and-two at the Ravens' 22, Terrell Owens succumbed to pressure from Gary Baxter, lost control of a ball at the 20, and another field goal made it 7-6.

Down 17-6 with 41 seconds left in the first half, Garcia, throwing from his 20-yard line, forced a 9-yard pass to his left. It glanced off Wilson's arms directly to a trailing Ray Lewis, who ran untouched to the end zone for a 24-6 lead.

"I'll take the blame for being a little bit off on some throws," Garcia said. "But when we have a chance to get our hands on the ball, we're all pros, we need to find ways to make plays."

But it got worse in the fourth quarter. Another Garcia pass, on third-and-10 from his 20, caromed off Terrell Suggs' helmet to a waiting Baxter, who returned it to the 21, setting up Anthony Wright's 6-yard pass to Terry Jones for a 34-6 lead with 13:45 to play.

Garcia's 13th series was his last, as the Ravens' Chad Williams tipped a pass that skimmed receiver Jed Weaver's arms and found Ravens safety Will Demps. Matt Stover's 18th straight field goal made it 37-6.

"My thoughts are for me to try to learn from this," Garcia said.

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