"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.
January 5, 2003
Trailing the New York Giants by 24 points late in the third quarter, the 49ers playoff dream seemed hopeless. Quarterback Jeff Garcia had other thoughts. He injected life into his dying club and led one of the NFL's most stirring comebacks.
In just under 18 minutes of play, Garcia threw for two touchdowns, ran 14 yards for another score, connected with Terrell Owens on a pair of two-point conversions and drove the 49ers 74 yards to set up a Jeff Chandler field goal as San Francisco posted 25 unanswered points.
For the record, Garcia capped his frantic fourth-quarter exploits with a nine-play 68-yard drive. Just over a minute remained when he threaded a 12-yard dart to receiver Tai Streets for the game-winning score in a 39-38 victory.
"He was smart. He was poised," coach Steve Mariucci said about Garcia. "T.O and J.J. Stokes were both doubled on that play. He (Garcia) checked down to his third receiver and made a great throw."
Garcia completed 27 of 44 passes for 331 yards and picked up 60 rushing yards to erase the second-largest deficit ever in a playoff game. But the entertainment was far from over. After the ensuing kickoff New York quarterback Kerry Collins quickly moved the Giants to San Francisco's 23 yard line. Six seconds remained when kicker Matt Bryant trotted out to attempt a game-winning 40-yard field goal.
And then, confusion reigned on the field.
The snap was low and Giants holder Matt Allen was forced to scramble. After screaming "fire, fire," the call for a pass play after a bad snap, Allen threw the ball in the direction of offensive lineman Rich Seubert near the 6 yard line. 49ers defensive end Chike Okeafor grabbed Seubert and pulled him to the ground as the ball fluttered their way. The pass fell incomplete. Penalty flags littered the field. Was it pass interference or an ineligible receiver downfield? The referees huddled then levied a penalty on the Giants. With no time remaining on the clock, the game was over.
"That was wild," Garcia said in a postgame interview. "It's just hard to fathom it all right now. I can't even grasp my emotions."
Mariucci was equally breathless.
"As long as you live, you might never see a game better than that,'' the coach said. "Everything came together for us in the end. I'm not sure how it all happened but I'll take the final score.''
The NFL later revealed that Seubert had reported in as an eligible receiver and pass interference should have been the appropriate call. The NFL issued a formal apology to the Giants for the missed call that should have given them another shot at a field goal. But it was too late to nullify one of the NFL's greatest comebacks.