Promising return

Quarterback Jeff Garcia looks to hand the ball off during his

Garcia plays three series in 49ers’ 27-12 win over Saints
SAN FRANCISCO – Returning to the Candlestick gridiron for the first time in Saturday’s preseason home game against the New Orleans Saints, Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia did not have to wait too long before taking a big hit.

The test for Garcia’s back came on the 49ers’ second series of the first quarter when Saints’ defensive tackle Kenny Smith got past his block and drilled Garcia to the ground. The garlic grown slinger immediately hopped back up and jogged off the field like any other time.

“I wasn’t even thinking about it. That was on everyone else’s mind, but not mine. When I step out on the field, whether in practice or a game, I can’t let my mind think about the injury,” said Garcia, who saw his first action since being diagnosed with a herniated disc. “I didn’t want to end on the second drive with a sack being the last play.”

Garcia’s night did not end with the sack.

After two scoreless series at the helm, the three-time Pro Bowler got one more to open the second quarter – and, like the Garcia of old, orchestrated a six-play, 52-yard touchdown drive. The Gilroy native – who finished 6-of-7 for 52 yards – completed three passes of 19 yards to fullback Fred Beasley, five yards to receiver Cedric Wilson, and eight yards to tight end Jed Weaver before tailback Garrison Hearst scored from one yard out.

“I was thankful for that third series in the second quarter. It was quick and productive,” said Garcia, who set the tone early as the 49ers never relinquished the lead and remained undefeated in three preseason games with an encouraging 27-12 win over their former NFC West rivals. “I went out there and I didn’t think about it. Even when I got hit, I bounced right back up.”

Garcia then passed the baton over to his back-ups as second-stringer Tim Rattay finished 12-of-13 for 147 yards with two scoring drives – including a four-yard TD lob to receiver Brandon Lloyd – and rookie Ken Dorsey went 4-of-4 for 65 yards with one scoring drive that was capped by running back Rashaan Salaam’s 10-yard TD scamper. Second-year man Brandon Doman was 0-of-1 in limited action.

“I thought Jeff played extremely well. He stepped up, avoided the rush and made plays just like he always does,” said first-year head coach Dennis Erickson of Garcia. “He made things happen just like he always does.”

But the 49ers’ defense shined the brightest – despite the recent blows to the secondary with cornerbacks Jason Webster and Mike Rumph out of action. The Niners held the Saints to 265 net yards and only allowed one touchdown with two field goals.

“Ater that (first New Orleans’ drive), we did some really good things on defense,” said Erickson, who watched as rookie Ray Wells picked off a fourth-quarter pass to end any kind of late Saints’ threat. The defense also recorded two sacks.

The 49ers did not elude major injury though, as starting tight end Eric Johnson suffered a broken collarbone on a one-yard reception on the first play of the game.

“That was disappointing… It was definitely unexpected,” said Garcia of Johnson’s injury. “He came back to the huddle and everyone thought he just got his bell rung. We tried to get him out, but he wanted one more play. It’s unfortunate that we’re going to lose him for a couple of months.”

Weaver, the Niners’ back-up tight end, filled in nicely with four receptions for 39 yards. Lloyd was the top yard-gainer by air – making a strong impression with five grabs for 81 yards.

“He’s definitely shown to be a very talented player,” said Garcia of Lloyd. “I think we’ll see a lot out of him this year.”

The Saints got on the scoreboard first with a 39-yard field goal off the foot of place-kicker John Carney and led by 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.

After the teams traded punts, the Niners jumped out to a 7-3 lead on Hearst’s short touchdown run with 9:11 remaining in the half. It was Garcia’s last of three series as the quarterback returned from the locker room in a Niners’ jump suit.

“I felt good,” said Garcia from the post-game interview podium. “I felt pretty sharp, especially in the pre-game I had a lot of zip on the ball. I felt energized.”

Robertson gave the 49ers a 14-3 cushion on a six-yard TD ramble four minutes later. Before the break, the Saints scored their only touchdown on an 18-yard pass from quarterback Aaron Brooks to receiver Joe Horn. But Rattay hooked up with Lloyd to give the home unit an 11-point half-time advantage.

In the third quarer, the Saints came within 20-12 after a 29-yard field goal by Carney. However, the Niners sealed it on an eight-play, 82-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter – culminating with Salaam’s 10-yard run into the end zone for a 27-12 lead.

The Niners finish up their preseason schedule with an August 29 road game in San Diego before opening the regular season at Candlestick on September 7 against Chicago.