Browns put stability in hands of Garcia

After uncertain seasons, Davis has QB to go to

September 09, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

After a couple of seasons of waffling between quarterbacks, never completely backing either one of them, Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis was definitive when discussing the promise of Jeff Garcia, who stands to be his team's signal caller the next four years.

"One of the things we wanted to try to do in the offseason was solidify the quarterback situation," Davis said. "When Jeff became available, we felt like it really was a good move for our football team. He brought leadership, he brought some charisma and a proven performer who had won. He has at least met, if not exceeded, all our expectations."

Now if Garcia can exceed the oddsmakers' expectations and help lead the Browns to an upset over the Ravens, his popularity in Cleveland may shoot past former quarterback Tim Couch and starter-turned-backup Kelly Holcomb, neither of whom could seize control of the position.

Garcia signed a $25 million contract with a $5 million signing bonus in March, essentially ending the tenure of a quarterback carousel marked by Couch's lack of toughness and success from Holcomb that was a mirage.

Davis raves about Garcia's work ethic and how he has won over his teammates. Garcia, in turn, speaks of accomplishing things in Cleveland that have not happened in over a decade, like winning a division title.

"I want this to be the last stop in my career," Garcia, 34, said. "I want to be somebody who can take this team to new heights, new levels and help lead this team in the right direction. I'm very optimistic about what we have going in this organization."

While hope may be flowing eternally out of Cleveland, pardon the Ravens if they are not buying that Garcia will make a difference.

Last time the Ravens and Garcia were on the same field in November, the three-time Pro Bowl performer got tossed around in one of the most forgettable showings of an otherwise stellar career.

Garcia, after missing the three previous games with an ankle injury, threw four interceptions and no touchdowns as a member of the San Francisco 49ers in a 44-6 loss to the Ravens. It was the most interceptions for Garcia in one game, and the 18.8 quarterback rating is a career low.

As for if the Ravens are expecting a different Garcia, linebacker Ray Lewis implied it does not matter.

"We've never focused on one person," Lewis said. "We've focused on the Cleveland Browns, and that's who we are going to play.

"It don't matter. Couch, Holcomb, Garcia, it don't matter."

Lumping Garcia in with those two, though, does not do him justice. Garcia sports a career passing rating of 88.3, fourth in league history behind Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and Steve Young, also former 49ers.

At 6-foot-1, Garcia has had his share of doubters over the years (including former teammate Terrell Owens, who constantly dogged Garcia about his lack of arm strength), but the gritty California native always seems to have the last word.

No college offered him a scholarship coming out of high school, but he ended up setting a school record with 7,274 passing yards at San Jose State.

Garcia was not drafted but played five seasons in the Canadian Football League, where he won a championship in 1998. And few could have predicted he would have followed up Young's legendary career in San Francisco with a memorable one of his own. He will try to overcome one more obstacle in the Ravens' defense, which embarrassed him and helped set the tone for his eventual downfall in San Francisco.

With a dominant receiver in Owens, Garcia, 14-for-29 for 112 yards in the game, could not do much and was eventually benched in the fourth quarter. The 49ers were shut out in the second half.

Ravens cornerback Deion Sanders has already called out Garcia, imploring him to throw an out-route on his side during an interview with ESPN, then implying that he might high-step an interception for a touchdown if he does.

"I really don't pay much attention to those type of things," Garcia said. "That's just Deion excited to be back on the field.

"They really created a bad situation for us and myself as the quarterback on the field that day," said Garcia, who also holds a 2-to-1 career touchdown-to-interception ratio (113 to 56). "It was definitely a learning experience, but it was really an experience where I got to see how the best play."

Now comes the application, albeit, with a different team. Davis has faith that, mentally, Garcia is ready.

"I think he is a very tough guy," Davis said.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns in opener

Site: Cleveland Browns Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3

Coming today

NFL Preview 2004: A special section examines the Ravens' prospects and takes a look around the league's divisions.

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