SANTA CLARA — Ahead of the first start of his NFL career, 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens pumped crowd noise, found on Apple Music, into his headphones to simulate the chaos he anticipated on facing. But that was just for a home game at Levi’s Stadium.
On Sunday night, Mullens will be confronted with the noisiest challenge of his young career as the 49ers (2-9) head Seattle to take on the playoff hopeful Seahawks (6-5) in the second-loudest stadium in the NFL, CenturyLink Field.
“Obviously it has the reputation that it has in CenturyLink,” Mullens said on Wednesday afternoon. “But, we’re excited and ready to attack the opportunity and really just focus on us and how we execute.”
Looking at his fourth start as a pro, Mullens has already faced his fair share of ebbs and flows throughout the 12 total quarters of football he’s played in a 49ers uniform.
In his debut against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday Night Football on Nov. 1, Mullens threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Earning a 151.9 quarterback rating, the Southern Miss product led San Francisco to a 34-3 win over Oakland.
Since then, Mullens has experienced a steady drop off in production. Over the course of this last two games, against the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mullens combined for a total of 471 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
In addition, Mullens has also fumbled once and was sacked four times against Tampa Bay after not being so much as hit throughout his first two games.
“I know the Oakland game was great, just the numbers and everything. But, he didn’t get to play in a ton of situations,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “The next two games, it’s been four quarters of going for it … He’s been in some tougher situations.”
With a 1-2 record in his first three starts, Mullens has had to learn on the fly while attempting to adjust to the nuances of professional football. Before being named the starter in Week 9, in place of the injured C.J. Beathard, Mullens had spent a season-and-a-half on the 49ers practice squad after going undrafted in 2017.
One thing that Mullens is familiar with, however, has been that of enduring extensive crowd noise inside hostile road environments.
“I’ve played in a lot of the most prominent stadiums in the country as far as college football goes,” he said. “Alabama, LSU, Nebraska. Those were the top three for sure.”
While the stadiums of some of the most iconic college football programs in the country have been known to pack a punch from a noise standpoint, few locations in the world rival Mullens’ next stop.
In 2014, CenturyLink Field was crowned as the loudest stadium in the world after recording a 137.6-decibel roar, which surpassed Seattle’s previous record of 136.6 decibels in 2013 against San Francisco.
That mark of 137.6 decibels now stands as the second-loudest in the world after Arrowhead Stadium — the home of the Kansas City Chiefs — claimed the title with an eardrum-shattering 142.2 decibel recording.
“The more chaos, the harder it is to focus,” Shanahan said. “We struggled in Tampa with it a little bit. And it wasn’t that loud.”
According to Shanahan, headset troubles against the Buccaneers contributed to issues getting plays into Mullens’ helmet during the game, which resulted in having to waste a pair of timeouts in the second half.
Despite this, Shanahan says he does not plan to change anything up, as far as play calling is concerned, to mitigate the difficulties ahead of their next game in Seattle. Instead, he hopes to keep consistency with his young quarterback.
’I’m always going as fast as I can. You’ve got to repeat it a lot because it’s loud,” he said. “Instead of telling the quarterback to slow down, I kind of just slow myself down just so I don’t take any of their edge off.”
Over the past few seasons, the Seahawks have experienced some turnover, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Since appearing in back-to-back Super Bowls in 2014 and 2015, the Seahawks have lost eight of their 11 defensive starters to free agency, trades or retirement, including Richard Sherman, now manning one of the cornerback spots for the 49ers.
Despite this, Seattle is back in the running for a playoff spot after missing the postseason for the last two years. With that, CenturyLink Field will have a lot to cheer for, making life hard for the Mullens and the 49ers.
“I think Nick handles pressure pretty well,” said Shanahan. “Nick’s been the same guy since he’s been here. I don’t think he’s going to freak out just because it’s loud.”