5 overreactions from SF 49ers win over NY Giants in Week 3

Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers and the offense (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers and the offense (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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SF 49ers, quarterback, Nick Mullens
Quarterback Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Overreaction No. 1: Nick Mullens is the best quarterback on the SF 49ers

I don’t know who said it, but this line about football seems to ring especially true: “The most popular player on a football team is the backup quarterback.”

The logic behind this statement, one partially in jest, does make sense. The most important position in football is the quarterback, and most of the time, people want more from their QBs. So the unknown quantity sitting behind him, the mysterious backup quarterback, will always be alluring.

The SF 49ers have a similar situation to this with Nick Mullens and Jimmy Garoppolo, though different in some very important ways. For starters, Mullens had an extended run as a starter following Garoppolo’s ACL tear in 2018, and he played decently, but not spectacularly. He did beat the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks that year, which gives him a high supply of Niner fan cred, but nothing from 2018 indicated that he was the answer at quarterback.

The play of Garoppolo, which can be volatile and at its lows can bog down the offense to a painful halt, has also made Mullens’ allure more and more. Despite Garoppolo’s superb winning record and ability to put the team on his back when he needs to, as he did in the “gauntlet” the 49ers faced last year, people see Mullens as a more secure quarterback for head coach Kyle Shanahan’s needs.

Which is why when Mullens throws for 343 yards on 25 of 36 pass attempts, people think to themselves that maybe it should be Mullens’ time to shine.

And make no mistake, Mullens was quite the sensation… in the second half.

The SF 49ers did not punt the entire game, and their first half was five drives with three field goals made, a missed field goal, and a touchdown. But what counting stats don’t consider is how painful their offense was during the majority of those drives: 10 plays for 41 yards, 12 plays for 28 yards, nine plays for 38 yards, 12 plays for 75 yards, and finally four plays for 24 yards.

That was the extent of the 49ers first half offense.

It’s a clip of 4.38 yards per play, which is not terrible but certainly not great. Mullens made some decent throws in that half, but by and large, he was not looking great. He was off, he was late, and he was not throwing with confidence. Some people talk about throwing players open; Mullens threw wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk covered in the end zone. The offensive line was struggling, and Mullens struggled along with them; he never seemed comfortable.

When, in the second half, the offensive line began to settle in as they wore down the Giants, it comes as no surprise that Mullens settled in and hit a stride. As NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco said:

"Quarterback Nick Mullens made his first start since the end of the 2018 season. At times, it showed. But, ultimately, Mullens managed the game just as coach Kyle Shanahan drew it up."

Compare that with the last half Garoppolo had, on his bum ankle. The Giants are a slightly better team on defense than the Jets, with the same strengths – good run defense.

Garoppolo, as I noted in my position grades from last week threw with great conviction and with high accuracy. He did all this while injured and dealing with constant pressure.

A chart used to detail quarterback efficiency and accuracy from Weeks 2-3 illustrates exactly what I’m trying to say:

Mullens on this chart is on the positive (the top right is where a player should be), but Garoppolo is at a level not even close to being touched.

Mullens is a good backup who could easily be a starter for a number of teams. But whereas Garoppolo has the potential, and has shown the ability, to elevate when he has nothing to work with and the opposite of a clean pocket, Mullens seems to be a high-floor low-ceiling player.

As Niner Noise’s Peter Panacy said in breaking down the “QB controversy”, “it is mutually beneficial to all three parties — Mullens, Jimmy G and the SF 49ers — to have Mullens playing well in Garoppolo’s stead.”

But Garoppolo has done well enough to show he’s still QB1 in San Francisco.

Verdict: Overreaction