In a stunning development, it turns out San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens will not complete 72 percent of his passes and throw three touchdowns with no interceptions every week. A week after an astonishing debut against the Oakland Raiders, Mullens came back to earth a bit against the New York Giants. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 250 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
It was not a great performance, but it likely was enough to earn Mullens a third straight start — against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12 after the 49ers bye. Head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked if Mullens would be the starter after the bye, and he said, “I’m sure, but I haven’t thought about it yet.”
Mullens was able to make some big passes, including some key third down conversions. At the same time, his first interception showed why there is concern over his arm strength. Mullens found Marquise Goodwin deep near the end, but it feels like the deep ball is not really an active part of the game-plan at this point. Mullens regularly found George Kittle, and did enough shorter work to set up solid YAC opportunities, which provides something to build on.
Following the bye week, the 49ers travel to face a Bucs squad that ranks 23rd against No. 1 receivers and 31st against No. 2 receivers. They also rank 32nd against tight ends and running backs, so realistically there should be a lot of opportunities for Mullens to make plays. The Bucs defense is atrocious, and while a solid performance won’t necessarily provide the final answers we want, it will hopefully provide an opportunity for Mullens to build further confidence heading into the final month-plus of the schedule.
“Alright, [CB] K’Waun [Williams] had a stinger there at the end. [DB] DJ Reed [Jr.] left with an ankle, went back in. [WR Marquise] Goodwin had his head examined and he went back in.”
There were a lot of penalties on that last Giants sequence. The big one was the LB Malcolm Smith holding call. You seemed to have a pretty good angle on it, what did you see on that play?
“He grabbed him. They called it.”
Did that timeout defensively, it looked like your assistant coach was running up the sideline. Was this just something you needed to take there or would you prefer not to have to burn a time out there?
“I would definitely prefer not to, but we saw a look that did not look good and we thought we had a chance still to hold them. So, that was a pivotal part of the game to try to stop them before they got there.”
You’ve talked so much about finishing, finding finishers, etc., etc. Is this kind of the same type of game where you didn’t have that play to win it?
“It was a number of plays. Extremely disappointed. I thought we put ourselves in a position that we should have won that game. Up 20-10 after the first drive in the third quarter. Gave up a big kick return right after that, I think, followed by two explosives. Got them right back in it, 20-17. I thought we had a chance to step on their throat there and we didn’t. We let them get back in it fast. Kept them around. Kept them around too long and then we didn’t make the plays at the end and we had every opportunity to and just as a team, players, coaching staff, we didn’t get it done.”
How do you think QB Nick Mullens played generally and the second interception - did Goodwin stop and start a little bit on that route, did you notice?
“I didn’t watch him, but the route is a stop and start route. So, I assume he did. It looked like the ball was a little bit behind him. I’d love Nick to throw a better ball and I expect Marquise to catch that regardless.”
And how do you think Nick played overall in this game?
“I think he did some good things and some things we need to improve on.”
Goodwin went out and looked at his head. Came back in very quickly, then had the ball that was deflected and got hit in the head again.
How involved are you, I mean, some normal person would say he’s getting looked at twice in his head? He shouldn’t go back in. How involved are you in that decision, because he did play at the end?
“Yeah, zero. They take him to a tent any time that happens. They phone from upstairs. They go to a tent. Even if he is feeling alright, they have to go anyway. So, they check it out and they tell me when they are good to go. So, I don’t know what goes on in the tent. I just know whether they say ‘you have him or you don’t.’”
On the one touchdown to New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., CB Ahkello Witherspoon was on coverage. He looked like he was upset afterwards, like he was supposed to get some help.
“Yeah. I think he was expecting help over the top. He was surprised he didn’t get it.”
Nick had a couple bumps that he didn’t have last week. Just how did he respond when he had a little adversity like a few interceptions?
“He was the same. He had one early. Didn’t change. Didn’t get gun shy. Played his game. I don’t think the picks affected him. He played his game.”
Are you okay with Witherspoon throwing his hands up in the air when he doesn’t get help?
“No, I am not. No. Man up. Don’t put that on tape. We’ll deal with it when we come in.”
RB Matt Breida came out for a little bit. Might have had a little tweak?
“Yeah, he came out a little bit. Nothing though that I was told about, no injuries or anything. Just some wear and tear as the game went. So, tried to spell him here and there.”
What happened on the first touchdown when it looked like Beckham found a spot in the zone between two guys?
“I’m not exactly sure what happened, but that’s zone and you don’t get there quick enough, I’m not sure if it was three-man rush or not. I didn’t see it, but the zones broke down, it takes too long and found a hole there and [New York Giants QB] Eli [Manning] threw a good ball.”
Will Nick be the starter after the bye? Nick Mullens?
“I’m sure, but I haven’t thought about it yet.”
Can you talk a little bit about LB Fred Warner and his play tonight?
“From what I saw, I thought he played well. I won’t know for sure until I go study the tape, but when I was looking up I saw him make some plays. He’s done a helluva a job leading our defense all year as a rookie, just making the calls and being out there every single week too. We’ve been real happy with Fred this year. From what I saw, it looked like he did some good things in the game, but I won’t know for sure until I watch the tape.”
On 3rd-n-7 in the red zone, just after the two-minute warning. It was a three-yard pass to WR Kendrick Bourne. What did you see on that play?
It was a three-yard pass to WR Kendrick Bourne and was anyone open beyond the sticks? What did you see on that play?
“Yeah, there’s five guys out on a route. There’s lots of stuff that goes on. We called H Arches, I don’t know if you know what that is, but someone fell under the arches, you have to go across the board to the shallow. He got hit by a plugger and we were a little bit late to it, because the guard, someone flashed across Nick’s face, so he couldn’t throw it on time. He threw it a little later and the defense recovered and stopped us short.”
Obviously, the record isn’t what you want and obviously, you lost QB Jimmy Garoppolo and RB Jerick McKinnon. But overall, going into the bye week, what’s your assessment of the first portion of the season?
“I mean, right now, I’m thinking all about this game. The assessment of the season so far is - I would be much happier with a better record. I know a lot of things have happened. I expected to win this game. We expected to win this game. Right now, I’m disappointed we didn’t and we’ll figure out how to get our guys better. Hopefully getting some rest will help the guys and we’ll have a good week of practice next week and come back and get ready for the second half of the season.”
Coming back to that third-and-seven play, you said the throw was late, but was it the right read from Nick on that third-and-seven play?
“Maybe. I’m not going to go through the entire playbook with you and you should wait until you see the play.”
On Matt Breida, how helpful was he and how much was he battling that second half with the ankle?
“I was never told that his ankle was hurt. I think he was alright.”