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Backup Leads 49ers Over Titans


Jeff Garcia is the latest backup to win for the San Francisco 49ers in the absence of an injured Steve Young. In the process, he validated Bill Walsh's faith in an obscure quarterback.

Looking much like Young with his nifty footwork and deft throws under pressure, Garcia threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as the 49ers held off Tennessee 24-22 Sunday, knocking the Titans from the ranks of the unbeaten.

"I think I really answered some doubts out there," said Garcia, who spent five years in the Canadian Football League before coming to San Francisco, handpicked to be the backup to Young by Walsh, the 49ers' general manager and three-time Super Bowl winning coach.

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  • "But I think it's really unfair to put Bill in a position where if I fail, he's lost his touch; if I do great, then he's still a genius. The guy's a genius no matter what. It's not based on one decision."

    San Francisco's defense also came up with two key stops in the fourth quarter.

    Linebacker Winfred Tubbs' interception of Neil O'Donnell led to Garcia's second touchdown pass, and after Tennessee scored nine points in the last 3:38, linebacker Lee Woodall burst through the line to tackle Eddie George and foil a 2-point conversion try that would have tied it.

    "Coming in, we didn't have big Kahuna in Steve Young, and the defense had to step up," Tubbs said. "We knew Jeff would come in and do a good job, but we also felt the defense had to come in and make a statement."

    It was San Francisco's 19th straight win at home, including an 18-0 regular-seasn mark here under coach Steve Mariucci.

    The 49ers (3-1) continued a pattern of success when they've had to play without their starting quarterback, improving to 7-1 in eight games without Young since 1996 as the backups fit right in with San Francisco's West Coast offense.

    "I really felt like I was seeing the field well and I felt I was making good decisions all day," said Garcia, who was turnover-free. "The main thing I tried to do was keep our team headed in the same direction we were headed in with Steve, and that's winning football games."

    The loss denied the Titans (3-1) the first 4-0 start in the 40-year history of the franchise, formerly known as the Oilers.

    "We came out here expecting to win a game," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "We knew we were going to be in for a very, very challenging very physical game. It was very difficult, very frustrating."

    Garcia completed 21 of 33 passes for 243 yards, including touchdown throws of 22 yards to Terrell Owens, following Tubbs' interception, and 21 yards to Charlie Garner in the second period. He also scored on a 1-yard bootleg.

    O'Donnell, who led Tennessee to consecutive wins after stepping in for injured Steve McNair, was 20-of-40 for 355 yards, including scoring passes of 54 yards to George and a 32-yarder to Yancey Thigpen in the late going.

    "We had a chance to win but fell short," O'Donnell said. "But the last time I checked, this is the fourth game and there's still a lot of football to be played."

    The Titans were most frustrated by driving deep into San Francisco territory, only to have to settle for three short field goals by Al Del Greco.

    "When you can hold people to field goals on a short field, that's huge," Mariucci said. "But I thought our whole team rallied around a backup quarterback who did a good job."

    Young, who suffered his fourth concussion in three years during last Monday night's 24-10 win at Arizona, watched the game from the sidelines in street clothes. His status for next week's game at St. Louis is still uncertain.

    San Francisco trailed 10-0 and had punted, or at least tried to, at the end of its first four possessions before finally developing a drive.

    Garcia loosened up the Titans with completions of 30 and 9 yards to Tony Cline in the course of a 65-yard drive ending in Garcia's scoring run.

    Tennessee's Anthony Dorsett gave the Titans a huge early break when he broke through the middle and blocked a href="http://www.sportsline.com/u/football/nfl/players/146359.htm">Chad Stanley's punt that rolled out of bounds on San Francisco's 5. But the Titans gained just 2 yards in three plays and settled for Del Greco's 21-yard field goal.

    Notes

  • Offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick, who is battling bile duct cancer, was honored during halftime ceremonies. The former Marine officer received a tribute from the Marine Corps and a plaque from NFL in recognition of his service to both. Afterward, McKittrick was given the game ball by the team.
  • San Francisco is 7-3 against the Titans-Oilers.
  • The 49ers are 27-10-1 since 1981 when the starting quarterback is out, including four straight wins with backups.
  • Del Greco extended his club-record scoring streak to 80 games.
  • George has scored in each of the Titans' four games this season, but he was held to just 26 rushing yards on 15 carries.

    ©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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