The San Francisco 49ers got a surprising and dominant start from quarterback Nick Mullens against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday Night Football, meaning he has to start in Week 10 against the New York Giants.
He wouldn’t commit to naming his Week 10 starter, but San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has no other choice but to start upstart quarterback Nick Mullens when the New York Giants roll into town on Nov. 12.
It’s no surprise Shanahan hasn’t announced his starter between Mullens and the guy he replaced, second-year pro C.J. Beathard, who didn’t get the start in Week 9 on Thursday Night Football against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9 because of a wrist injury and the subsequent short week.
“No, I haven’t,” Shanahan responded when asked if he decided which quarterback would start in Week 10 (h/t 49ers Webzone). “The players got four days off. I don’t need to decide yet, so I’m taking my time with it. Also, I wouldn’t want to do that with all the guys out of the building. I’d like the whole team in here, too, when I decide that.”
We know the answer, though. And it’s not Beathard.
This isn’t a knock against Beathard, who has continued to display the toughness and mental fortitude after taking over for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo earlier this season. Beathard commands respect in the locker room.
But the reality is simple — Beathard’s efforts under center have been, at best, decent enough not to lose. Yet the shortcomings of a talent-lacking roster have also revealed Beathard isn’t capable just yet of putting a team on his shoulders en route to a win.
Beathard’s pocket-presence issues and elongated delivery are also problematic, whereas Mullens displayed zero such issues in the 49ers’ one-sided 34-3 victory over their cross-bay rivals Thursday.
Granted, the Raiders defense is terrible. They entered the game with a league-low seven sacks and failed to record a single one in Week 9. Mullens’ abilities against a good pass rush are yet to be tested. But just watching how quickly Mullens delivered passes when his targets were open is noticeably better than Beathard.
There are two factors at play here. First, Mullens didn’t have to face off against an elite defense. And he won’t again in Week 10 against the Giants, who currently own the league’s 21st-ranked scoring defense and have allowed 6.9 yards per attempt through the air — ranked 24th.
Marginally better than Oakland? Yes, but the added bonus of having extra days between Thursday night and Nov. 12 should help both prepare Mullens and counter the slightly better Giants defense.
More importantly, though, there’s no way Shanahan can go back to Beathard after Mullens went 16-of-22 for 262 yards and three touchdowns with zero turnovers — all for a passer rating of 151.9.
Mullens has the hot hand right now. Beathard doesn’t. And coaches can never justify it to the fans, let alone the locker room, benching a player coming off such a standout performance.
None of this is to say Mullens will wind up being a potent, even competent quarterback at the NFL level. He’ll likely level off, perhaps regress against tougher competition. But we don’t know that yet.
Until that happens, though, Mullens will be the guy under center. There’s no other option for San Francisco.