SF 49ers: Kyle Shanahan made right decision playing Nick Mullens vs. Cowboys

Nick Mullens, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Nick Mullens, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Nick Mullens played poorly against the Cowboys as the SF 49ers lost, but did Kyle Shanahan truly have another alternative?

With a minimum of fanfare and a somewhat merciful feeling sinking in, the SF 49ers were officially eliminated from finals contention in 2020 with their 41-33 road loss in Week 15 at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Did quarterback Nick Mullens play well? No, he did not. And with the season-ending injury suffered late in Week 15, he won’t have the chance to redeem himself for the rest of 2020.

Has Mullens played well all year? With some exceptions and considering the whole sum of his performances, he has not.

This is not an attempt to twist the knife in. Quarterback is arguably the most difficult position in pro sports to play. Mullens will play it on his worst day with a better performance than me at my best.

It’s just a statement of fact, but it is also a statement of fact that head coach Kyle Shanahan made the correct choice to play Mullens.

Why? Because no alternative was there for San Francisco. Third-string quarterback C.J. Beathard was not a better candidate because he’s not a better quarterback. Beathard is more physically gifted, particularly with a noticeably stronger arm. But don’t be fooled by some of Beathard’s stats in relief of Mullens from late in the fourth quarter when the latter exited due to his elbow injury. Beathard did not play much in the way of meaningful action but instead played soft prevent defenses in garbage time.

Mullens did not play well, granted, and an argument could be made Beathard deserved more of a chance earlier in the season. But in a must-win game, absolutely nobody is willingly going to give a quarterback without meaningful game time the nod.

The number of injuries to the team was staggering. Mullens often didn’t have his best weapons in running back Raheem Mostert, tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel available. The offensive line was so broken down that players were forced to start in positions that they never played before.

Given this, it’s a miracle to expect any backup quarterback to have a realistic shot of making the playoffs.

Mullens is not a bad backup quarterback, he’s smart and understands his limitations. When he has help, he can be a good player who can be trusted to fill in if starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is injured.

But for most of the season with a lot of his weapons and blockers injured, with all the pressure on him? I think fans have been too harsh on Mullens.

The SF 49ers are out of the playoff race and that can’t be helped, just as it can’t be helped that Mullens played poorly in these games.

Next. SF 49ers: 3 silver linings from playoff-eliminating loss to Cowboys. dark

But in terms of whether or not Mullens should have started, Shanahan 100-percent made the right choice.