Mullens shows mettle in 1st start, then his humility
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 Deadspin.com 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 49ers.com, 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!”