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The Game Manager, Week 9: Big Nick Energy (or This giant week is Giant week)

49ers/Raiders was supposed to be Thursday Night Dead, starring the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, but one player was more than ready for his close-up.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at San Francisco 49ers
Ladies and gentlemen, your homecoming king and queen!
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t much to say about Nick Mullens’ stunning and glorious debut Thursday night against the Raiders in the final Battle of the Bay (worth clicking if only for the photo) that you don’t already know. You’ve watched the impressive highlights. You’ve seen the eye-popping stats. You’ve read the glowing accounts and analysis. You’ve heard his teammates rave about his work ethic. You’ve listened to the postgame Brett Favre call. You know he was verified on twitter mid-game (even if he already had a fan account).

You don’t need me to tell you Mullens owned the Raiders -- but just in case, I have reputable sources.

No word on whether Mullens plans to go ahead with the planned move to Las Vegas now that he has taken control of the franchise. He did, however, give the embattled Jon Gruden a vote confidence.

You don’t need me to tell you how endearing Mullens’ emotional post-game interview was.

I will say that I don’t blame him for showing the emotion that he did there. I would also get choked up if I were in that position -- talking to Erin Andrews, I mean.

But one thing which I think has gone overlooked is the effect he had on the entire team’s performance. Many people will say Thursday night’s beatdown had more to do with playing against the lowly Raiders than anything else. And I can’t argue that with “logic” or “reason” or any kind of conventional weapons. But dammit if I didn’t feel something different with Nick Mullens on the field. And it seemed like his 49er teammates felt it too.

Suddenly, the mistakes -- dropped passes, silly penalties, and unforced errors -- dissipated. I don’t think C.J. Beathard caused false starts, bad snaps, and fumbles, so what happened to them?

Suddenly, the much maligned defense had their best effort of the season by far, holding the Raiders scoreless after an opening drive field goal.

Suddenly, they could not just rush the passer, but sack them -- over and over again. The Raiders line may not be very good, but they’re not atrocious, and they managed to keep the Colts from sacking Derek Carr four days earlier. So why did Cassius Marsh suddenly look like Khalil Mack with taekwondo training and better dance moves?

Suddenly, the offense was explosive, jumping out to a big lead early on for the first time this year, behind big plays from their C Team -- Mullens, Raheem Mostert (pours out 40oz), and Richie James Jr.

Suddenly, these were the bizarro Niners.

Yes, I know the Raiders are a train-wreck led by a cartoon character who won’t stop making crazy statements. And sure, their defense is surrendering more yards per play than any unit in NFL history. But enough with the damn “facts,” this is about a feeling!

Besides, the 49ers are no stranger to getting beat by bad teams. The 2-6 Cardinals wouldn’t have a win at all if it weren’t for the Niners. Throughout the winnable games against Arizona -- and even in the close losses to the Chargers and Packers, when Beathard played well -- there seemed to be something missing. And it goes beyond talent. The air was let out of the balloon when Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt, and while the effort has continued to be present -- a tribute to Kyle Shanahan -- the lack of energy on the team has been hard to miss.

There appeared to be more spring in the 49ers collective step on Thursday night. Mullens’ play, attitude and very presence seemed to raise everyone’s game. I can’t say exactly why. Maybe his teammates wanted to rally around a guy they knew had worked his tail off to get this chance. Or maybe he did the little things we can’t see on the sideline, in the huddle, and between the lines to help them raise their game. You could see it in the little things -- like Matt Breida’s relentless second effort to convert a 3rd and 1 on the 49ers second drive to get a 1st and goal they would convert into their second touchdown.

Hell, I even saw it in the comments section of this very site. We all had high hopes for 2018, and it’s been hard to maintain positive vibes once reality slapped us around. But as soon as the news broke that Mullens would start, something changed. A palpable sense of excitement grew. Maybe it was just the anticipation of the unknown. Maybe it was optimism borne out of Mullens’ impressive showing in the preseason. Or maybe, just maybe, there really is a little magic in Mullens. Sure he doesn’t have the strongest arm, and he doesn’t have the physical stature you look for out of an NFL quarterback. But perhaps what they say is true: it’s not the meat, it’s the motion.

In any case, you can’t argue with the results. Or the stats. Mullens put up such great numbers, it’s time to ask whether he is best QB to ever come out of Southern Mississippi. Here’s the tale of the tape:


Nick Mullens — Winning%: 1.000, Completion%: 72.7, TD%: 13.6, INT%: 0.0, Rating: 151.9

Brett Favre — Winning%: .624, Completion%: 62.0, TD%: 5.0, INT%: 3.3, Rating: 86.0

Looks like it’s time for Southern Miss to retire another jersey. And before any of you nerds in your mom’s basement tell me I’m working with too small a sample size to analyze, think again: Mullens and Favre have combined to play in 303 NFL games. That’s a huge sample.

Speaking of premature quarterback comparisons...

Stat of the week


Nick Mullens: 1-0

C.J. Beathard: 1-9

This is not meant to slam Beathard, or belittle him in any way. He’s been put in a tough spot and hasn’t had much to work with. I’m not even saying Mullens is better than Beathard, or that he should be the backup to Jimmy G next year -- though it did appear Mullens is better able to get rid of the ball quickly and avoid taking the excessive punishment Beathard is prone to taking.

What I am saying is it would be a crime if Mullens didn’t get a chance to repeat his prime time magic this Monday night against the Giants -- if only because in a lost season such as this, it benefits the Niners more to evaluate what they have in as many players as possible. I have to imagine Shanahan sees this, and expect he will make the decision official before long -- possibly even before you read this.

Speaking of the Giants...

Who’s got it better worse than us?

That’s right — against all odds, this gag is still alive! There’s at least one team left that’s objectively worse off than the 49ers. And again, it’s their next opponent. Isn’t that convenient? The Giants not only have one less win than the 49ers, they’ve lost 21 of their last 25 games. And like the Raiders, they are awash in dysfunction.

Sure, they have one of the most exciting -- and distracting -- receivers in the game in Odell Beckham Jr. And yes, this year they drafted one of the most dynamic young running backs to enter the league in years in Saquon Barkley. Not to mention, last year they added a very promising young tight end in Evan Engram -- though he has regressed thus far this season.

So, who’s in charge of getting all those playmakers the ball? This guy:

Despite all the talk of regression and old age eating into Manning’s talent, Eli is basically who he’s always been. He’s pretty much the same guy who won Super Bowls, and who people like me thought would never win Super Bowls -- talented, but shockingly inconsistent, capable of great plays, and prone to jaw-dropping mistakes.

Don’t believe me? Look at the stats. Eli’s QB rating this year: 90.9. For his career: 83.8. His last two full seasons: 86.0 and 80.4, which averages out to 83 and change -- right at his career average. His TD percentage is down, but so is his INT percentage. Still don’t believe me that Eli is who’s he’s always been? Check this out:

Still, it’s time to move on. Manning’s performance is slipping -- even if not by the degree most seem to think -- and it’s time to look to the future. Which is why many are saying drafting Barkley instead of a potential franchise QB was a mistake.

So who did the Giants bring in to manage this largely unmanageable situation, and steer this sinking ship to shore? The... uh, experienced Pat Shurmur. It has not gone well.

First, Shurmur’s choices regarding how to use his old and immobile QB came under fire.

Then, after starting 1-5, questions began to be raised about whether Eli was still the man to lead this team in the present.

On October 23, heading into their Week 8 game vs. Washington before the Giants bye week, Shurmur stood by his struggling 37-year old quarterback. Six days later, after a loss to Washington in which they scored all of 13 points, Shurmur wouldn’t commit to starting Manning at QB against 49ers, saying, “Well see.” This raised the possibility he might elevate rookie Kyle Lauletta out of Richmond, who hadn’t dressed for a game all season. Shurmur said as recently as a week before the game that Lauletta had been getting practice reps during the Giants bye week.

The very next morning, Lauletta was arrested for nearly running over a police officer -- but not just that:

He was charged with eluding police, obstructing administration of law, resisting arrest, reckless driving, disregarding an officer’s directions, improper turn in a marked traffic lane and failure to remain in a marked lane.

That is a lot of stuff to do wrong at one time. But hey, everybody has a bad day once in a while. I’m sure it was an isolated incident.

Police also said the same car was involved in a “similar incident” at the same location Monday, and a summons was issued by mail after the car owned by Lauletta had not stopped and left the scene.

Or not. Maybe from now on, we should spell his name LOL-etta.

Still, some Giants fans feel this development is a little too convenient (NSFW) and are wondering if the police might have have a vendetta for Lauletta (hey, that rhymes!). But what would the police possibly have to gain by arresting him?

Hmmm. He does have a motive. And before you call this theory ridiculous, you should know that multiple reports have confirmed it.

Giants players reported Lauletta missed practice later that day, despite Shurmur claiming all players were present. So it seems like maybe we shouldn’t pay that much attention to what Shurmur says. But he’s still the man in charge, and he’s reportedly fuming over the incident, which seems to end any chance Lauletta gets his first NFL start against the Niners. That’s a shame, because I love the idea of Nick Mullens being the seasoned veteran in this matchup.

In any case, the entire situation is ridiculous, embarrassing and melodramatic -- or, in other words, very New York Giants!


Nick Mullens should start...

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    The next game (I’m a realist)
    (177 votes)
  • 44%
    The rest of the season (I’m a dreamer)
    (160 votes)
  • 4%
    Next season (I’m a lunatic)
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    Over C.J. Beathard’s dead body (I’m C.J. Beathard)
    (7 votes)
359 votes total Vote Now