SF 49ers: Nick Mullens vs. Packers shows he’s not long-term answer
By Peter Panacy
Perhaps the SF 49ers learned backup quarterback Nick Mullens won’t be the answer next season after his ugly outing against the Packers.
There probably aren’t too many SF 49ers fans thinking they’d still rather have Nick Mullens under center over their normal starter, Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo, of course, is on injured reserve with an ankle injury and could miss the rest of the season, perhaps having played his last down with the Niners if the team indeed elects to move on this offseason.
One of San Francisco’s potential options to replace Garoppolo would be Mullens, who essentially is getting his audition for that role halfway through the season.
And the next chapter against the visiting Green Bay Packers in Week 9 on Thursday Night Football wasn’t particularly inspiring enough to put him in position for the job.
Mullens and the SF 49ers lost their prime-time bout 34-17 in a game where the score made it seem much closer than it actually was. Two second-half touchdowns, including one in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, helped Mullens avoid the embarrassment of a complete walloping at the hands of Green Bay.
Remember, it was 21-3 at halftime.
Mullens had a lot to do with that deficit. After San Francisco’s defense stiffened at the start of the second quarter, the Niners’ backup quarterback was hit by multiple Packers defenders on a 3rd-and-16 play at the 50-yard line.
Instead of taking the sack and letting his team punt, flipping field position, Mullens unwisely elected to wildly toss a rainbow, which was picked off by Green Bay’s defensive back, Raven Greene:
That’s the mark of a quarterback trying to do much in the wrong situation. But that wasn’t all of it.
Mullens could have been picked three more times, too, including one pass going off the hands of a Packers defender. Other passes, including one intended for slot receiver Trent Taylor, were either off mark. Or Mullens and Taylor were on different pages.
Either way, that particular pass could have easily been picked and returned for a touchdown. Others were underthrown, showing Mullens doesn’t have the arm strength to take advantage of many of the openings within Green Bay’s defense.
And that defense made sure it clamped down on the Niners’ ground game, forcing Mullens to throw.
There were good moments, however, including helping backup wide receiver Richie James achieve a career game with nine catches for 184 yards and a touchdown. Mullens also hit wide receiver River Cracraft in the first half for what looked to be a game-tying touchdown in the first quarter:
The only problem on Mullens’ dime of a throw, though, was Cracraft not maintaining control of the ball through contact with the ground.
Instead of the touchdown score for Mullens, it only added to his incompletion numbers.
What does Nick Mullens’ efforts mean for SF 49ers
Overall, Mullens’ stat line of 22-of-35 for 291 yards, a touchdown to James and the previous interception. This all generated a passer rating of 86.7, which is probably in line for most C-level backup quarterbacks you’d find around the league.
And that’s precisely what Mullens is. Nothing more.
Yes, Mullens is capable of the kind of games he enjoyed late in 2018 when he was filling in for Garoppolo, particularly that Thursday Night Football debut and dominant win over the Oakland Raiders. Even Mullens’ Week 3 win over the lowly New York Giants is capable of happening here and then.
But not much more than that.
True, Mullens and the SF 49ers were awfully shorthanded and playing on a short week with a makeshift squad. There’s some merit to not holding that against him. Yet the inconsistencies and mistakes remain, putting the quarterback into some kind of middle ground: nowhere near as bad to be removed from the roster, yet not good enough to suggest he’ll be a long-term starter.
It’s important, as Mullens will be a restricted free agent this offseason. This gives the Niners some control, and the tender amounts are likely to be cheaper than they typically are in non-pandemic affected salary cap totals.
Yet it doesn’t look as if Mullens will be pegged to take over for Jimmy G as a permanent replacement anytime soon.