SANTA CLARA — On perhaps the best day of his life, Nick Mullens wandered into his postgame press conference wearing sneakers, gray jeans and a wrinkled shirt he looked like he bought secondhand.
“You look great, man,” kicker Robbie Gould said with a mischievous grin. “Way to dress up for this.”
Mullens’ face turned the color of a ripe tomato.
The 23-year-old quarterback had nothing to feel embarrassed about. He gave the most impressive performance of his brief NFL career, and the 49ers beat the Seahawks 26-23 in overtime. Beat them for the first time since 2013. Ended a 10-game losing streak against Seattle, a team that beat the 49ers by 27 points just two weeks ago. The 49ers’ record now is 4-10. They’ve won two in a row.
On Sunday, Mullens completed 20 of 29 passes (69 percent), threw for 275 yards and one touchdown and posted a quarterback rating of 110.6. His 275 passing yards ranked fifth-best among quarterbacks this week. Only Tom Brady (279 passing yards) Deshaun Watson (294 passing yards), Philip Rivers (313 passing yards) and Jared Goff (339 passing yards) threw for more yards than Mullens.
Mullens has started six games during his 49ers career, and his passer rating is 96. To put that in context, Jimmy Garoppolo has started eight games with the 49ers, and his quarterback rating 94.1.
“I think I can play in the league,” Mullens said. “I believe that.”
So do his teammates. Especially Richard Sherman.
“Mullens has stepped up to the moment week in and week out,” Sherman announced after the game. “He has shown he can play in this league. I just hope we can keep him, because teams need quarterbacks. This guy is not playing conservative football. He is making the right decisions and making good throws under pressure.
“He is playing like a top-half quarterback in this league. You’ve got guys out there who are not playing better football than Nick Mullens. He can be a starter for a lot of teams in this league.”
And he already is one of the 16 best quarterbacks in the NFL, according to Sherman. That’s what Sherman meant by a “top-half quarterback” — top half of the league.
But Mullens didn’t beat the Seahawks by himself. The entire 49ers team played well.
Richie James returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown during the first quarter to give the 49ers a 7-6 lead. This play represented the 49ers’ first kickoff return for a touchdown since 2011.
Later during the second quarter, Mullens threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end Garrett Celek, who came into the game with more penalties (five) than catches (three) this season. The 49ers led 14-6 with 9:37 remaining in the second quarter after Celek’s touchdown.
But the 49ers would go on to score just nine more points during regulation time. The offense faded as pass protection broke down and receivers dropped key passes.
So, the defense carried the 49ers during the second half. DeForest Buckner recorded two sacks, including one with 6:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. Buckner now has 11 sacks this season. His previous career high was six.