49ers coach Kyle Shanahan on Friday wouldn’t name his starting quarterback for the next game against the New York Giants, though the signs are pointing to Nick Mullens getting a shot at an encore.
Mullens had a memorable NFL debut in the 34-3 blowout of Raiders on Thursday night, tossing three touchdown passes while completing 73 percent of his attempts. His 151.9 passer rating was the third-highest by a San Francisco quarterback in club history.
But Shanahan wouldn’t commit to Mullens starting the Monday night game Nov. 12 because that announcement will be made to the players before it’s made public, and the players had Friday off and won’t return to team headquarters until next week.
The decision will come down to riding Mullens’ hot hand or going back to C.J. Beathard, who was demoted to backup duties Thursday because of a wrist injury suffered during the previous game against the Cardinals.
Beathard would have been expected to play if the 49ers played on a normal Sunday, but the abbreviated week forced Shanahan to turn to Mullens because Beathard struggled to grip a ball and throw accurately, which was evident in warmups.
“It’s all about who gives you the best chance to win,” Shanahan said. “That could be a week-to-week decision. That could be a quarter to quarter decision. You do everything you can to win games.”
Mullens’ quick ascension could throw an unexpected wild card into San Francisco’s otherwise lost season. The team enters Week 10 at 2-7, and is nearing the phase of the campaign where players will get evaluated for 2019 and beyond.
Mullens could wind up challenging Beathard for the backup job to Jimmy Garoppolo next season if he strings together solid performances like he did Thursday. Beathard, after all, completed just 53 percent of his passes and took 11 sacks over the past two games, while ball security has been an issue since he took over for Garoppolo.
But Shanahan doesn’t want to go down that road just yet.
“That’s not where we’re at right now. We’re excited to have a few days off here,” he said. “... When we come back in, we’re going to be all thinking about the Giants, not who gives us our best chance to have our best backup next year. It’ll be about the Giants, and that’ll be the decision as we go through the year. When we get to the end of the year, those are things we’ll think about really hard.”
Mullens joined Hall of Famers Frank Tarkenton (1961) and Jim Kelly (1986) to throw at least three touchdown passes, more than 250 yards and with no interceptions in their NFL debuts since 1950.
But Mullens did it against a hapless Raiders defense that ranked dead last with seven sacks on the season and struggled to make him uncomfortable. Oakland pressured Mullens on just three of his 22 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus, with no sacks and just a pair of quarterback hits.
And many of Mullens’ receivers were wide open throughout the night, including his touchdown throws to receiver Pierre Garçon and tight end George Kittle.
“I’m not going to take any credit away from Nick,” Shanahan said. “He did some really good things in that game, and helped us have one of our better games of the year. It’s always easier when you play at a high level in all three phases. ... So, it goes hand in hand. But, it wasn’t just handing it off and protecting the lead. He made some plays that were one of the reasons why we got that lead.”