Mul­lens shows met­tle in 1st start, then his hu­mil­ity

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By Eric Branch Eric Branch is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: ebranch@sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @Eric_Branch

Along with that con­grat­u­la­tory phone call from Brett Favre, 49ers quar­ter­back Nick Mul­lens re­ceived sev­eral hun­dred way-to-go mes­sages Thurs­day night.

One text was from Auburn of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Chip Lind­sey, who coached Mul­lens at Spain Park (Ala.) High School and South­ern Miss. Since Lind­sey fell asleep shortly af­ter watch­ing Mul­lens in a na­tional-tele­vi­sion in­ter­view, he didn’t ex­pect to hear back from his for­mer QB soon.

How­ever, Lind­sey awoke Fri­day morn­ing and saw Mul­lens had re­sponded less than three hours af­ter lead­ing the 49ers to a 34-3 win over the Raiders in his NFL de­but. It was a small ges­ture made in the fren­zied af­ter­math of his big mo­ment. “That’s just who Nick is,” Lind­sey said. “... He’s a guy you can­not help but like. He’s just a kid that you’d want your kids to be like.”

On Thurs­day, a large seg­ment of NFL watch­ers found they couldn’t help but like Mul­lens af­ter he de­liv­ered an outof-nowhere per­for­mance that was cou­pled with gen­uine emo­tion and hu­mil­ity. Af­ter the How each QB fared in mak­ing first NFL start with the 49ers: Quar­ter­back Year Opp. Cm-Att Yds TD INT Re­sult John Brodie Joe Mon­tana Jeff Garcia Alex Smith Colin Kaeper­nick Nick Mul­lens 1957 1979 1999 2005 2012 2018 GB StL Ten Ind Chi Oak game, Mul­lens choked up dur­ing an in­ter­view with Fox’s Erin An­drews. Mul­lens apol­o­gized for need­ing a mo­ment to col­lect him­self and, with his voice crack­ing, said, “It’s ev­ery­thing I’ve dreamed of.”

The head­line on Dead­ on Fri­day morn­ing: “Nick Mul­lens Kicked Ass And Then Cried And It Was Awe­some.”

In­deed, who doesn’t like an un­der­dog story? Mul­lens, a baby-faced 23-year-old, un­der­sized and un­drafted, ar­rived at Levi’s Sta­dium with zero reg­u­lar-sea­son snaps on his NFL re­sume. Then, in 55 snaps, the Hoover, Ala., na­tive com­pleted 16 of 22 passes for 262 yards with three touch­downs and no in­ter­cep­tions.

Mul­lens joined Hall of Famers Fran Tarken­ton (1961) and Jim Kelly (1986) as the only QBs since 1950 to have 250 yards, three touch­downs and no in­ter­cep­tions in his de­but, 5-12 5-12 21-33 9-23 16-23 16-22 75 36 243 74 243 262 0 0 2 0 2 3 2 0 0 4 0 0 W, 27-20 L, 13-10 W, 24-22 L, 28-3 W, 32-7 W, 34-3 ac­cord­ing to NFL Re­search.

Still, Mul­lens-ma­nia was at least mildly muted Fri­day. Head coach Kyle Shana­han said he hadn’t de­cided whether Mul­lens or C.J. Beathard would start at quar­ter­back when the 49ers host the Gi­ants in an­other prime-time game Nov. 12.

Ac­tu­ally, it’s pos­si­ble Shana­han al­ready knows — but he won’t make a pub­lic an­nounce­ment un­til af­ter the 49ers re­turn to the team fa­cil­ity Tues­day.

“I don’t have to de­cide that right now in front of you guys,” Shana­han said. “I’d like to do that in front of our play­ers and the peo­ple that it really af­fects.”

It’s likely Mul­lens will re­main the man. Beathard, who served as the backup Thurs­day be­cause of a sprained right wrist, has a 1-9 record as a starter, and Mul­lens helped the 49ers snap their los­ing streak at six games.

It helped that Mul­lens faced the Raiders (1-7), who had zero sacks, two quar­ter­back hits and a host of egre­gious er­rors in the sec­ondary. Still, Shana­han said the op­po­nent didn’t de­tract from Mul­lens’ ac­com­plish­ments.

“I’m not go­ing to take any credit away from Nick,” Shana­han said. “He did some really great things in that game. He helped us have one of our bet­ter games of the year.”

Be­fore his voice cracked and he fought back tears, Mul­lens was com­posed and had zero prob­lems com­mu­ni­cat­ing. In fact, he said he prob­a­bly was talk­ing too much to his team­mates Thurs­day night.

“I just ap­pre­ci­ated that they lis­tened in the hud­dle,” Mul­lens said. “I’m prob­a­bly pretty an­noy­ing some­times, to be hon­est.”

Mul­lens knew he would get his first NFL start at least two days be­fore kick­off. On Tues­day, he texted Lind­sey to give him a heads-up. Lind­sey was Mul­lens’ head coach for two sea­sons in high school and his of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for two sea­sons at South­ern Miss.

“I couldn’t be­lieve it,” Lind­sey said. “My ad­vice to him — prob­a­bly like a lot of peo­ple told him — is all you can do is be Nick Mul­lens. That’s good enough. Don’t doubt your­self. And he did that.”

Lind­sey and Mul­lens spend a few days to­gether ev­ery off­sea­son, and he said his wife and four chil­dren also “love” his for­mer QB. His close bond with Mul­lens is why he might have been more anx­ious Thurs­day night than he’ll be when Auburn hosts No. 25 Texas A&M on Satur­day.

“I ac­tu­ally was really ner­vous, be­cause when you care for some­one, and it’s a kid like him, you want him to do well,” Lind­sey said.

Mul­lens (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) is tiny by NFL QB stan­dards, but had a com­mand­ing pres­ence Thurs­day night.

De­spite his in­ex­pe­ri­ence, Mul­lens ac­cepted cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man’s re­quest to ad­dress the team be­fore kick­off. Then, in a postgame lock­er­room scene cap­tured on, he stood be­fore his hyped-up team­mates and re­called what he told them af­ter he threw a game-win­ning touch­down pass in the pre­sea­son opener against Dal­las.

“When we won against the Cowboys, I came in this locker room and said, ‘It’s only pre­sea­son, but that’s why we play the game,’ ” Mul­lens said, his voice ris­ing. “Well, this isn’t pre­sea­son! And that’s why we play the game!”

Nick Mul­lens

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