SANTA CLARA — It was the Battle of the Bay. The Battle of the Basement Dwellers. The Battle of the Two Worst Teams in the NFL — the 49ers and the Raiders. Both teams had just one win coming into the game.
And yet, they played like total opposites Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers won 34-3. They took care of business at home, played a clean game (no turnovers, only three penalties) and prepared a young backup quarterback, Nick Mullens, who may be the starter the rest of the season.
The Raiders quit. Or seemed to. Their defense gave up 405 total yards — a whopping 7.5 per play. And they allowed 143 yards on the ground. The entire team seemed disinterested in physical competition.
The 49ers were eager to fight. And Mullens was their star. He completed 16 of 22 passes (73 percent), threw for 262 yards and tossed three touchdowns and zero interceptions. His quarterback rating was 151.9 — almost perfect. A flawless quarterback rating is 158.3.
Who IS this guy?
“Our secret weapon,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said with a wicked smile after the game. “He didn’t surprise us. The game is not too big for Nick. He is poised and always locked in. That’s why the guys all respect him. He didn’t know whether he was going to start until today. The way he handled the two days of long walk-throughs, he’s a machine. I’m happy for him.”
And the way Mullens played against the Raiders, he very well could start the 49ers’ upcoming game against the New York Giants.
“Yeah, we’ll definitely consider it,” Shanahan said.
Mullens started in place of second-year quarterback C.J. Beathard, who banged his wrist last Sunday against Arizona Cardinals linebacker Josh Bynes’ helmet. Beathard has had trouble gripping a football since then. Two hours before kickoff Thursday night, the 49ers decided not to play Beathard. He has lost six starts in a row dating back to last season.
Considering how well Mullens played against the Raiders and how poorly Beathard played during his past six starts, why didn’t Shanahan make the quarterback switch sooner?
“Because I don’t put all the struggles on C.J.,” Shanahan said. “There are 11 guys on offense. There are 53 guys on our team. I thought our team had our best game of the year so far. That’s nothing against C.J. I think he would have played well tonight, too.”
Mullens had never taken a regular-season snap. This was his first career start. “I think I’m here for a reason,” he said afterward. “This was my opportunity to prove I can play.”
Mullens played like a veteran. He threw a touchdown pass in each of his first two drives. The first touchdown pass was a 24-yard completion to wide receiver Pierre Garcon, and the second touchdown pass was a four-yard completion to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. Both receivers were wide open when they scored. The Raiders weren’t even in the same zip code.
“We have to find a way to start games better,” said Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. “We have to eliminate the big plays, stop the run somehow. We have to stop the bleeding.”