At the moment, it seems almost cruel to continue driving Nick Mullens out there as the 49ers quarterback.
Everyone can feel that the poor guy gives it all he has. He is energetic and enthusiastic. He is cooperative and honest in interviews.
And he just can not do it.
Asked to rate Mullens’ performance in Sunday’s 23-15 defeat to Washington, former 49er QB Jeff Garcia said he was “very sporadic, late on the throw, not very accurate.” It’s a trifecta of bad quarterbacking.
But what should you do? If anything, CJ Beathard hangs up the ball longer. Jimmy Garopollo is still sprained in the ankle and is likely to return for the last two games.
But this was certainly the approach for Mullens. I have a recurring vision that he jumps wildly down the field, hoping to catch the defender who had just taken the ball from him. No such luck. His fumble was returned 47 yards to the end zone, and his long, looping throw to the sideline was collected by a waiting Kamren Curl and returned to a 76-yard TD.
Coach Kyle Shanahan called the return of the interception and the 17 points given up by his offense a “boundary breaker.” And if it was only “cross-border”, I think we all hate to see a real backbreaker.
The really hard part was that both turnovers were the kind of preventable mistakes that Mullens has obviously been drilled on. The fumble came with him holding the ball in one hand in traffic, a recipe for a swatted turnover. And kudos for going to alternative recipient choices, but that choice personified the Mullens experience.
It was the end of the third quarter, the match was within reach, 16-7, and he got the team moving. He had just converted a third-and-11. They were inside Washington 25, it was second and two. The Mullens player who had to be helped off the pitch, was Kyle Juszczyk as he was unable to finish the game. Curl stood five feet up the field waiting and watched Mullens. It’s true that Juszczyk turned up the field, but Curl immediately broke the ball.
Again, it’s down elsewhere. You’re on the edge of the red zone. There is nothing there. Throw it away.
Afterwards, Mullens looked shell-shocked for the first time (at least to someone watching a screen.) He must have said, “I have to take care of the ball” five times. What you have to wonder is if he has lost the trust of the team. Have the players given up on him?
All of this builds up in a big, tight ball of quarterback anxiety over those last three games. And that’s true for everyone, from GM John Lynch to third-grader CJ Beathard. And by the way, you can trust us in the media to try to contribute lots of wild speculation and knee-jerk reaction.
But consider: If the 49ers stick to Jimmy G for the final two game plans, there is still next week’s game with Dallas to deal with. Do you stick with Mullens? Or go with Beathard?
Because the 49ers could beat Dallas. It’s not just their 4-9 record. The Cowboys were publicly called out by their former franchise quarterback, Troy Aikman last week. The Hall of Famer said “I feel like they gave up a bit,” in a loss for Baltimore.
And if the 49ers were to beat Dallas, they would keep their weak but mathematical chance of making the playoffs alive. Which then would make the game with Arizona, the day after Christmas, a bit of a big deal.
So to review: Shanahan needs to call a starter for the Dallas game. Mullens probably, but Beathard must believe this could be his last chance to show anything to the rest of the league. Meanwhile, Mullens wants a shot at redeeming himself in hopes that his career is not over.
And now this Garoppolo start is getting way too important. He is, of course, well versed in the talk around the team that there are considerations to cut ties with him and save about $ 25 million in each of the next two years. He comes from an extended injury layoff and he knows that every move will be investigated. We continue to talk about Garoppolo’s “straight cool” personality. This would be a good time to show it.
And let’s not forget that Shanahan / Lynch will have to make a quarterback call. They may remember what Jimmy G. did in the past, but they will judge him on what he sees right here and now. It is critical that they get it right.
So given all that, I would offer a little unsolicited advice. Earlier this year, Shanahan referred to the fact that he is not exactly throwing compliments around. Which is a lot of football, though maybe a little old school.
And he’s an adhesive to get things right. Which – not many compliments, but quick to point out mistakes – is a kind of setup to undermine trust. Shanahan is a smart guy. I’m still impressed with how he handles public appearances – despite this terrible year, he has not become defensive.
But playoffs or not, the last three weeks of the season will be filled with excitement. Decisions will be made there that will affect the direction of the franchise in the coming years.
I just feel like everyone could use a little positive reinforcement.