The San Francisco 49ers will continue to ride the hot hand in prime time.
Coach Kyle Shanahan on Tuesday told his quarterbacks second-year pro Nick Mullens would start against the New York Giants on Monday night, giving him a chance to follow his historic debut last week against the Oakland Raiders.
“My preparation doesn’t change, this team’s preparation doesn’t change, and we’re excited to keep things going,” Mullens said in front of his locker. “It is exciting, yes sir.”
Statistically, Mullens had one of the best debuts in league history. He threw three touchdown passes while completing 73 percent of his throws with no interceptions. His 151.9 passer rating was the third-highest in club history - and the best of any quarterback in his first start while throwing at least 20 passes since the 1970 merger.
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Mullens was the key factor in the 49ers getting their elusive second win of the season, ending a dispiriting six-game losing streak.
But the nature of the NFL is forcing Mullens to move on quickly, even after receiving a congratulatory phone call from fellow Southern Mississippi alum Brett Favre, shining in the national spotlight and even getting verified on Twitter.
“I’m done reflecting on it, to be honest,” Mullens said. “It’s time to get to the Giants, but it was a very cool moment and you just try to give it everything you have and when your work pays off, it’s exciting.”
Giving Mullens a second start is no surprise. Shanahan’s other option, C.J. Beathard, struggled in his past two games and was hindered by a sprained wrist on his right throwing arm.
Beathard was Mullens’ backup Thursday and could have played, but his wrist still required painkillers beforehand. Beathard will be the backup again Monday.
“It was tougher to grip the ball and kind of snap it, just do the stuff that I normally want to do,” Beathard said, noting he likely would have been healthy enough to play if the game was on Sunday, not four days after suffering the injury in a loss at Arizona.
It marks the second year in a row Beathard lost the starting job while injured. Jimmy Garoppolo took over in December 2017 after the midseason trade with the Patriots the week after Beathard left a loss against the Seahawks with a knee injury.
Monday night’s game is similar to Thursday’s in that the Giants share the same 1-7 record as the Raiders, and it’s a home game on prime-time television. The key difference is Mullens has a normal week to prepare.
San Francisco held a rare practice Tuesday and will have at least four practices before playing New York.
The 49ers had just two walk-through sessions last week before hosting Oakland, throwing Mullens into his first padded, high-speed action since the preseason finale against the Chargers in August.
“I’m a believer in the more reps you get, the more efficient you’ll be, and I think that will definitely help,” Mullens said. “Last week, it was a lot of cramming for this team. We had walk-through practices and just trying to get our bodies right before you can even get your mind right almost.”
Mullens has become known around team headquarters for his work ethic and preparation. His ability to run Shanahan’s complex system was a reason he was entrusted by the coaching staff to play despite spending the bulk of his two NFL seasons on the practice squad. He was elevated to the active roster for the first time in September following Garoppolo’s season-ending left knee injury.
“Nick’s one of the hardest workers I know,” running back Matt Breida said. “He’s going to make sure, when he goes out there, he’s going to give it his best and he’s going to make sure he knows what he’s doing.”
The 49ers knew Mullens had a knack for preparation when he arrived at team headquarters for a pre-draft interview wearing a suit. Breida wore sweats for his meeting, which is typical even for players trying to make the right impression to NFL teams.
“Nick came in obviously more prepared than I did,” Breida said.
Mullens, 23, will start against one of the league’s most tenured quarterbacks in Eli Manning, 37.
It will be a reunion of sorts. Mullens attended the famous Manning Passing Academy held each summer at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La. Manning was an instructor along with brother Peyton and father Archie. Mullens attended in 2016 and was one of 30 college quarterbacks to be invited.
“The coolest thing was just watching him throw,” Mullens said of Eli Manning. “Like the college quarterbacks work out, throw, and Eli hopped in to work out with us and so to see how he moves in the pocket, he’s got very quick feet, and it was very smooth. So I definitely remember sitting there watching him throw and I took that all in.”