SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In his first day back at the office since his NFL debut Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens was informed by head coach Kyle Shanahan that he will get another shot: This Monday against the New York Giants.
“We discussed it, and obviously the situation is what it is, the team’s ready to get to work, and treat it like any other week,” said Mullens, who got the bulk of the reps at quarterback during Tuesday morning’s practice. “My preparation doesn’t change. This team’s preparation doesn’t change, and we’re excited to keep things going.”
C.J. Beathard — who started four games in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppolo — went down with a right wrist injury in an 18-15 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, hitting his hand and forearm on a defender’s helmet in the second quarter. He was active against the Raiders, but did not play. He said he could have made a go of things, had the game been played Sunday.
Instead, Mullens, an undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi who spent all of last season on the practice squad, completed 16-of-22 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns against Oakland, recording a 151.9 passer rating — first among the 13 NFL QBs with at least 15 attempts and 250 yards in their first career game since the merger.
Tight end George Kittle and running back Matt Breida praised Mullens for his ability to stay calm in the huddle, despite the fact that he ran a mostly hurry-up, no-huddle offense with the Golden Eagles.
“He took good command over it, and got us a couple laughs,” Kittle said. “He came in that first drive, and it seemed like he’d been in there the whole time.”
Kittle revealed that, even on the first drive, Mullens elicited a few laughs from his teammates when he’d talk back to Shanahan on the one-way radio in his helmet. Those laughs helped settle the huddle down and loosen things up.
“Coach Shanahan will talk in Nick’s ear as Nick is trying to call the play, and Nick would be like, ‘Can you stop talking?'” Kittle said. “But, you know, Shanahan can’t hear him. He knows he can’t hear him.”
“George talks a lot,” said Mullens, who had another secret outed by Kittle the night of the game — he listens to crowd noise in his headphones at home. “Sometimes in the huddle, you hear the play call and you’re ready to repeat it, so yeah, I was just ready to call the play.”
Since winning his first NFL start, Mullens has been verified on Twitter, and earned himself his own Wikipedia page. On Monday, he’ll take on Eli Manning, with whom he has a bit of history.
“I was a huge fan of the Mannings [growing up],” Mullens said. “I watched a lot of their games.”
In 2016, the summer before his senior season at Southern Miss, Mullens got a call from an unknown number. It was Archie Manning, inviting him to participate in the Manning Passing Academy, a four-day event held by Archie and his NFL QB sons Peyton and Eli.
At Nicholls State in Thibodeaux, Louisiana, Mullens threw alongside 37 other quarterbacks, including Josh Rosen (now with the Arizona Cardinals), Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Joshua Dobbs of Tennessee, among others. During the camp, he and Michigan’s John O’Korn were named co-winners of the Air It Out Quarterback Challenge.
“The coolest thing was watching [Eli Manning] throw,” Mullens said. “They have the college quarterbacks work out and throw, but Eli hopped in the workout with us, so to see how he moves in the pocket, he has very quick feet, and was very smooth. I definitely remember seeing that, watching him throw, and took that all in.”
Manning is currently 11th in the NFL in passing yards and ninth in yards per game, but has thrown just 8 touchdowns (tied with Beathard for 27th in the NFL) to 6 interceptions and has taken an NFL-worst 31 sacks. His total QB rating (ESPN’s proprietary stat that is more wholistic than standard passer rating) has gone down every year since 2014, bottoming out at 41.8 this season.
While Manning is a shambling shadow of his former self at the end of a 15-year career, Mullens is at the start of his NFL journey.
Last week, Mullens had two walkthrough practices to prepare for the Raiders. Now, he has a full week where he’s getting the first-team reps. On Tuesday, Beathard got limited third reps behind Tom Savage, though he did not have a cast or a wrap on his right hand, as he did a week ago.
“You hear about the speed of the game, and I was thinking about that a lot before the first snap: ‘Is it really that fast? Is that what it’s going to be like?’ Playing the first play of the game out in your head,” Mullens said. “Definitely, some of those thoughts were going on, but once you get out there, the team just adjusts. We all adjusted, and we all played well.”