SANTA CLARA, Calif. ---So it’s not exactly another version of a star is born. And the opponent was the sorrowful soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders. But the way Nick Mullens turned his first NFL game into a success for him and the San Francisco 49ers was the stuff Hollywood has been dishing out for years.
Kid steps off the bench and, voila, plays like well, Brett Favre, who went to the same school as Mullens, Southern Mississippi. Sure, that’s over dramatizing the situation, especially since this game, even if nationally televised, didn’t resonate much farther east than Stockton.
But for the 49ers, who with only their second win of a season in which they’ve used three quarterbacks, a rather convincing, 34-3, domination of the Raiders, who can’t win on the road whether they’re playing 5,000 miles from home (temporarily Oakland) as in London or 45 miles as in Santa Clara, Thursday night.
San Francisco started the season at QB with the guy who is supposed to be the future, Jimmy Garoppolo. His knee was torn up in Game Three. On came C.J. Beathard, who lost all four of his starts and incurred a wrist injury in the fourth, What now? That guy over there on the practice squad, Mullens.
Except if you heed his teammates or his coach, Kyle Shanahan, he’s not just “that guy,” but someone unique, someone obsessed, someone who listens to crowd noise on his headset while reading game plans, the better to get acclimated.
Mullens, who went undrafted the spring of 2017 despite breaking many of Favre’s school records, was signed as a free agent, and basically spent two years running the backups—the non-roster wannabees—against the starting defense.
“He did an awesome job today,” said Shanahan of Mullens, who completed his first six passes—did we mention the Raiders defense is lacking?—and finished 16 of 22 for 262 yards and three touchdowns
No less impressively, Mullens didn’t show an iota of uncertainty. He took control immediately, and the rest of the offense knew it.
“He showed poise in and out of the huddle,” said Shanahan of Mullens. “I was not surprised. The game is not too big for him. He showed what he could in the preseason. He didn’t know he would start until (Wednesday). He’s studied our game plans for two years. He walked in prepared. That makes a huge difference when you have to change quarterbacks.”
Favre, the frequent all-pro with Green Bay, phoned Mullens after his triumph.
“It was pretty cool,” said Mullens. “Definitely an honor. He told me how proud of me he was. He sent me a message before the game, ‘Just be yourself,’ and that’s what I tried to do.”
The question was expected. With Beathard’s struggles and Mullens lack of them, so far, why doesn’t Shanahan quickly decide that Mullens is the starter from now on?
“I don’t feel the struggles are only on C.J.” said the coach. “It’s a mistake to say if you win it’s because of the quarterback or if you lose it’s because of the quarterback.”
As noted from the 1-7 Raiders, losing is a team function. So is winning, but the Raiders are miles from winning. Yes, they had a 3-0 lead for a moment or two against the Niners, but after that Oakland QB Derek Carr was swarmed over by the Niners defense—and the Raider defense was swarmed under.
Carr was sacked seven times. Mullens never was sacked. The Niners gained 405 yards, the Raiders only 242.
“A very frustrating night,” said Carr, who was 16 of 21 for 171 yards and mercifully was yanked in favor of AJ McCarron when Oakland had no chance—which in truth may have been quite early
“That was terrible,’’ said Carr of the offense. “I wish I had more to tell you.”
What the Raiders high-priced, celebrity coach, Jon Gruden, told us was the team’s effort wasn’t bad but that key offensive linemen were missing, including Kolton Miller, this spring’s No. 1 draft pick, who as left tackle protects the blind side.
“A short week,” said Gruden. “I’m not going to make excuses about the injuries on the line, but those are very difficult to overcome.”
So is an undrafted rookie quarterback who never had taken a snap and in a game under the lights at Levi’s Stadium made a great first impression.