Barber: Nick Mullens has earned the right to start for 49ers
The Mullens Magic finally ran out, but even then, Mullens himself didn’t really believe it.
With zeroes on the clock and the home team trailing at Levi’s Stadium on Monday night, the newest 49ers sensation chucked a desperation pass out the back of the end zone. But what was that? A flag on the turf. Mullens gestured to his bench eagerly and pointed toward the New York Giants defense, convinced the penalty was against the other guys.
“I thought there was a personal foul, but there wasn’t,” Mullens said after the game.
No, there wasn’t. It was a holding call on the 49ers. The Giants declined it. Game over. New York 27, San Francisco 23.
So Mullens, the toast of the league during the preceding week after engineering a 34-3 rout of the Raiders in his NFL debut, is now 1-1. He brought a delirious passer rating of 151.9 into the Giants game; it now stands at 88.3. In short, Nick Mullens fell to earth. He experienced his first real adversity as a professional quarterback, and the results were mixed.
On the negative side of the ledger, Mullens threw two interceptions, and the first one led directly to Giants points. Different 49ers had different perspectives on the giveaways.
“Neither of those picks were on him,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “They were both tipped balls.”
But Juszczyk’s opinion is far outweighed by that of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, and the latter wasn’t so forgiving. “I think he did some good things, and some things we need to improve on,” Shanahan said tersely when asked about Mullens.
Let’s run through those interceptions real quick. Both did indeed come on tipped passes, but that doesn’t mean Mullens should be absolved. The first came about 11 minutes into the game, with the 49ers up 3-0. Working deep in his own territory, the first-year quarterback threw an out route to Kendrick Bourne. It was a dangerous pass that could have turned into a pick six. Instead, Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins got a hand on the ball and deflected it into the arms of linebacker B.J. Goodson.
“It wasn’t necessarily a terrible read,” Mullens said. “But it was late, and the corner made a good play on it. … I definitely would have it back.”
The second pick was harder to gauge. Mullens threw a pass behind Marquise Goodwin on a crossing route, and Goodwin, trying to adjust, inadvertently tipped it to, once again, Goodson. Goodwin had stopped on the route, then restarted. It looked like a mistake. Apparently, it was not.
“The route is a stop-and-start route, so I assume he did,” Shanahan said. “It looked like the ball was a little bit behind him. I’d love Nick to throw a better ball, and I expect Marquis to catch that regardless.”
I think we can all agree that interceptions are bad, and that the two Mullens threw were a big factor in the 49ers’ loss. But I was surprised to hear the edge in Shanahan’s voice when he talked about Mullens. Because for a guy making his second NFL start, he generally looked pretty good.
Here are Mullens’ numbers against New York: 27 of 39 for 250 yards and a touchdown, along with the two picks. The 49ers had 374 yards of offense. It was a case of crisp efficiency, done in by a pair of turnovers.