The SF 49ers coughed up a stinker against the Eagles on Sunday night, and Nick Mullens bears the brunt of the blame for the Week 4 defeat. Here’s how.
Beating the teams they should beat is no longer the M.O. for the SF 49ers.
This, particularly after losing to the 2-2 Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 and then suffering an embarrassing, overly telling 25-20 loss to the previously winless Philadelphia Eagles in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Football in Week 4.
Now, the Niners also find themselves 2-2 and in last place in the NFC West, thanks to Arizona’s opening-week win, which isn’t the place you’d expect to see head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad a quarter of the way through 2020.
While there’s plenty of blame to go around for the defeat, quarterback Nick Mullens has to shoulder the bulk of it. His performance on Sunday night was particularly poor, essentially starting on the SF 49ers’ opening drive where he missed hitting wide receiver Kendrick Bourne before overthrowing a wide-open fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, on what could have been a long play, at worst, or a touchdown, at best.
The Niners punted on that play instead of likely adding seven points, which would have set the tone for the game.
Instead, the Eagles found the end zone first.
The Juszczyk miss was one thing, but Mullens’ awful night in relief of the still-injured starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, was highlighted negatively by three other plays. With 2:40 left in the first half and the Niners trailing 8-7, Mullens attempted some kind of pass intended for wide receiver Trent Taylor, only the ball wasn’t heading anywhere near Taylor’s direction. He happened to be only the nearest 49ers receiver in the area:
Yes, Mullens was under pressure. But it was 2nd-and-7 from the Eagles 14-yard line. That’s where Mullens needed to scramble to his right to get out of the pocket, then throw the ball away. Taking the red-zone sack would have been a better option, too.
Instead, the Niners coughed up an excellent scoring chance, which was brutal.
“I saw the defender in front of the crosser,” Mullens told reporters of the play after the game. “I thought he could outrun him and so I tried to just lay it out in front. When the defender came from behind, he cut it off. It’s an opportunity ball. It’s a risky throw and that’s what happens when you take unnecessary risks, especially down in the score zone.”
That took at least three points off the board. With everything else being equal, the Niners would have at least been in a position to win the game with a field goal on their final drive in the fourth quarter instead of a desperation Hail Mary by No. 3 quarterback C.J. Beathard, who came in to relieve Mullens late in the game.
SF 49ers’ hopes were demolished by Nick Mullens’ other two turnovers
Mullens’ turnover just before halftime was a killer. But it was nowhere as impactful as the other two he committed during the game.
San Francisco took the lead in the third quarter, thanks to Mullens’ best throw of the game: a 5-yard pass to tight end George Kittle to put the team up 14-11. Two possessions later, however, Eagles cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc came on a blitz and strip-sacked Mullens for a 9-yard loss and another Philadelphia-generated turnover. While it was a blind-side sack, Mullens’ failure to feel the pressure behind him is worrisome.
Philly scored a touchdown off the takeaway to retake the lead.
Immediately after the Niners got the ball back, Mullens tossed a pick-six interception to Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton to make things 25-14 in favor of Philadelphia. Just like his first pick thrown, it’s hard to understand where Mullens was going with his pass:
That was the back-breaker.
“We had a 14-yard stop route,” Mullens said of his second interception. “The linebacker, I saw him, I knew he was getting under it, but the ball just didn’t come off right. I was going to have to put it over him a little bit, but the ball just didn’t come off right. It, unfortunately, went right to him.”
That’s essentially the only explanation that would work here: the ball not coming out of Mullens’ hand correctly. Anything else would have been unexplainable.
Still, the fault falls on Mullens here. There wasn’t pressure, and he had a relatively clean pocket.
Overall, it’s only part of a myriad of problems San Francisco’s backup had on Sunday night, which didn’t do any services to Mullens’ potential stock value to the roster. And it highlighted the realization the 49ers aren’t exactly boasting two starting-caliber quarterbacks, as the Sunday Night Football coverage suggested at kickoff.
If anything, Mullens is a backup and nothing more. Garoppolo is the starter, nothing less. These facts were on full display in Week 4.