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Kyle Shanahan changed his mind about pulling Nick Mullens

San Francisco’s head coach told C.J. Beathard to warm up, but stuck with Nick after he led the team on a touchdown drive.

Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

How does an NFL team lose a game when their defense doesn’t give up a touchdown and is only responsible for six points against?

With bad quarterback play and an abundance of missed scoring opportunities.

The San Francisco 49ers wasted an outstanding performance by their defense and are all but officially eliminated from the NFC playoff race after a disappointing 23-15 loss to the Washington Football Team.

The Niners had three turnovers, which resulted in 17 WFT points. Quarterback Nick Mullens made two crucial mistakes that led to two Washington touchdowns. The first came when he fumbled on a first-and-10 from the San Francisco 49-yard line. Washington’s super rookie Chase Young scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown.

Then, with the Niners just outside the red zone, Mullens threw a brutal interception that resulted in a pick-six for Washington and increased the deficit to 16 points.

“I was trying to get the ball to the outlet before the defender got there,” Mullens said about the interception. “I just got to protect the ball and can’t make that crucial mistake.”

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said he thought about pulling Mullens after the play and considered putting backup C.J. Beathard into the game.

“I wanted to give C.J. the chance to warmup during the next drive,” Shanahan said. “During the next drive, Nick made some big third downs and we went down there and scored. After he took us on the scoring drive, I changed my mind.”

Shanahan should have pulled the trigger. It was yet another demoralizing loss for San Francisco in what truly has been the season from hell for the franchise. Mullens missed several throws to open men during the game, and it didn’t help that his receivers had several key drops as well.

Mullens finished the game 25-of-45 for 260 yards and had a 21.9 QBR. He averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt and committed a turnover for the fifth-consecutive game.

“You just focus on what you can control,” Mullens said. “I have to make the routine plays, as an offense we didn’t make routine plays that kept us on the field and once you’re not making routine plays, you’re behind the sticks. It creates unfortunate situations.”

The 49ers’ defense did its job and kept the team in the game, which has happened frequently this season. The unit only gave up 193 total yards and held Washington’s QBs to 2.8 yards per pass. The defense also forced a turnover when Jason Verrett picked off Alex Smith. Unfortunately, the Young fumble return TD happened just two plays later.

“Extremely disappointing,” Shanahan said about the offense. “The way our defense played versus that offense, you have a very good chance to win as long as you don’t turn the ball over. For us to turn the ball over three times and give up 17 points off of them, two without our defense even being on the field was the back-breaker.”

The loss to Washington encapsulated the 2020 NFL season for the Niners. The defense has played well — despite missing pass rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford — and the offense hasn’t been able to make enough plays consistently enough to win close games.

San Francisco has turned the ball over at least twice over the last seven games and is 2-5 over that stretch. The frustrating part is that with an NFL starting-caliber QB, the Niners would have beaten Washington and remained in the playoff hunt.

Instead, we were reminded of just how bad Mullens could be on any given day. Shanahan will have to decide what to do at the QB position next season. If Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy, you have to think the team will run it back one more time with him as the starter. The 49ers are 22-8 when Garoppolo starts, and you can see the difference in the offense when he’s out of the lineup.

If San Francisco does bring Garoppolo back in 2021, it will need to acquire a higher-end backup given Jimmy G’s injury history. Because based on what we have seen this season, Mullens won’t get the job done.