Postgame Buzz: Breaking down the 49ers win over the Raiders with third-string QB Nick Mullens in charge
The San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders may have both entered Thursday night’s game with one victory this season but the result made one team look like a playoff contender for a night.
The other looked like it quit.
The 49ers wound up beating the lowly Raiders, 34-3, behind an impressive NFL debut from second-year pro Nick Mullens, who was announced as the starting quarterback hours before game time because C.J. Beathard was dealing with an injury to his right wrist.
Mullens had the best statistical performance of any 49ers quarterback since Alex Smith in 2012, finishing with a 151.9 passer rating. Mullens completed 16 of 22 (72.7 percent) for 262 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Mullens – who began the year on the practice squad and wasn’t elevated until Jimmy Garoppolo went down in Week 3 with his season-ending knee injury – was in command of Kyle Shanahan’s offense and showed poise at Levi’s Stadium. He was able to beat the blitz with quick throws – an area where Beathard had struggled in recent weeks, particularly in key situations with games on the line.
San Francisco (2-7) for the first time this season built up a large lead early and didn’t face any pressure scenarios. It was because Mullens got off to a fast start, leading scoring drives on five of his first six possessions against a hapless Raiders (1-7) defense that was playing with little effort, particularly as the game escaped them in the third quarter.
George Kittle led the 49ers in receiving yards for the sixth time this season, logging four catches for 108 yards, including the highlight of the night.
Kittle might have saved Mullens from throwing his first career interception on the opening drive of the third quarter when he made a one-handed grab over the middle, and then ran by the Raiders defense for a 71-yard gain.
Had Kittle not made the catch, safety Erik Harris was in position for the possible interception, and he was one of four Raiders in the vicinity of the play while Mullens fit the pass through a tight window.
Kittle ran right past Harris, burned linebacker Tahir Whitehead and nearly scored. Speedy cornerback Gareon Conley was able to chase Kittle down, but Kittle wound up scoring his third touchdown of the year on a 5-yard play-action pass two plays later to give San Francisco a 21-point lead.
Mullens got off to a fast start, completing nine of his first 11 throws for 103 yards, with his first two series ending in third-down touchdown passes. The first went to Pierre Garçon, his first score since joining the 49ers in 2017, when he broke through a busted coverage following play action from 24 yards out. Garçon finished with 56 yards on three catches after missing the last game in Arizona with knee and shoulder injuries.
The 49ers’ second touchdown went to Kendrick Bourne on a slant pass to the right from four yards out. It was Bourne’s third scoring grab of the season, putting him just behind Marquise Goodwin (four) for the team lead.
San Francisco outgained Oakland 206 to 150 yards in the first half, which ended with Robbie Gould’s 39-yard field goal set up by rookie receiver Richie James’ 53-yard catch. The 49ers outgained Oakland 405-248 for the game, while averaging a robust 7.5 yards per play.
The game got out of hand midway through the third quarter, when the San Francisco scored its second-consecutive touchdown on Raheem Mostert’s 52-yard weave through Oakland’s lifeless defense.
He was escorted by pulling right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who looked like a tight end running in space and blocking defender all the way to the goal line. It was Mostert’s first-career touchdown. He celebrated by pretending to catch a wave and surf in the back of the end zone, but left the game later with what appeared to be a serious forearm injury.
San Francisco’s defense also had its best performance of the season, sacking Derek Carr six times with Cassius Marsh leading the way with 2½. Marsh’s performance came on the heels of a solid showing in the last game against Arizona, when he forced a safety in the first quarter with a pressure on rookie signal caller Josh Rosen. The 49ers finished with seven sacks, their most on the season.
The game was so wretched for the Raiders that coach Jon Gruden pulled Carr with 11:45 remaining. Carr’s stat line: 16 of 22, 171 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a 95.1 passer rating.
Dekoda Watson also played well in his season debut after being elevated from injured reserve earlier in the day following a preseason hamstring injury. He logged a sack and a half and three tackles, going against Kelechi Osemele, who was moved from left guard to tackle after rookie first-round pick Kolton Miller left the game in the first half with a knee injury.
The 49ers next host the New York Giants on “Monday Night Football” Nov. 12. Until then, there will be plenty of conversation about who starts at quarterback: Mullens or Beathard.