Nick Mullens tosses 3 TDs, wins in first NFL start
Published 11:47 pm Thursday, November 1, 2018
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It was a record-setting night for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens, as the former Spain Park standout led the Niners to a 34-3 victory against the Oakland Raiders in his first-ever NFL start in front of a home crowd at Levi’s Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 1.
In his second year out of the University of Southern Miss, the undrafted free agent tallied 262 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-22 passing in his debut.
“It’s everything I dreamed of,” Mullens said trying to hold back tears after the win. “I love football and have been playing since second grade. This is what you always work for and it’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
The three touchdowns tied a franchise record for touchdown passes by a 49ers quarterback in their first start for the team, as he was the first to do so since the 2003 season when Tim Rattey tossed three touchdowns against the St. Louis Rams.
The first of those three touchdown passes came on the first drive of the game, as Mullens came out and looked like a veteran making his 100th start instead of his first start.
Mullens’ first career snap wasn’t a handoff; instead it was a shotgun snap with an empty backfield, signaling a pass was coming, which showed head coach Kyle Shanahan’s confidence in his QB.
He took the snap, stepped back two steps, planted his feet and fired a pass to an open Marquise Goodwin for an 11-yard completion and a first down to make him 1-of-1.
“I didn’t plan on running it every down all game,” Shanahan said after the game. “We like to pass, and we liked starting out that way. We have confidence in Nick and that’s why he is here. That was nothing different.”
That was just the start of a special first drive, as he went 3-for-3 on the drive, capped off by a 24-yard touchdown pass on a rollout pass to a wide open Pierre Garcon.
“I was ready to go to be honest,” Mullens said. “I’m pretty chill in the locker room, but on game day I love to compete and that’s what it’s all about, so I was ready to go and the whole team was.”
Some may have thought that was just beginners luck, but Mullens himself put the doubters to bed real quick on his second drive.
He came out and led the 49ers on a 13-play 66-yard drive capped off by his second touchdown pass in as many NFL drives with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Robbie Gould to put his team up 14-3.
San Francisco took a 17-3 lead into the half, and Mullens came out to extend that lead late in the third quarter with his third touchdown pass on a 5-yard pass to George Kittle.
That was the last of his three touchdown passes, as the Niners played the clock game for much of the remainder of the game, before pulling off the 31-3 victory.
“I don’t know if I ever truly settled in,” Mullens admitted after the win. “I was on edge until the clock hit zero. I was just ready to win and keep going. We were excited and ready to attack tonight.”
Before his regular-season debut, most people only knew Mullens for his game-winning touchdown pass for San Francisco in a preseason win against the Dallas Cowboys. That was a game he came in and showed impressive traits in the fourth quarter to bring the team back from two scores down, but it still wasn’t enough to make a name for himself quite yet.
For people in the Birmingham metro area, however, this was a performance many expected to see when the young quarterback finally got his chance.
At Spain Park High School, Mullens threw for 8,605 yards in his time as a starter, before going on to break records at Southern Miss, even records set by Bret Favre, throwing for 11,994 yards under current Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who was also his head coach at Spain Park.
Every offense he has been a part of has set records and his crisp passing skillset has been on display, showing many he had what it took to earn a spot in the NFL.
If he would ever earn a chance was the question.
After spending his first NFL season on the 49ers practice squad, Mullens had to battle to earn a spot on the team and practice squad in order to be retained for the 2018 season.
On Thursday, Nov. 1, he finally got his chance to show the world he belongs.
On a night that started with his first NFL start and a lot of unknown by most of the world and even 49ers fans, who might have expected a loss with their third-string quarterback getting the start, the night closed with a verified Twitter account, a phone call from Favre, an interview with Erin Andrews and on-set interviews with FOX after the game.
Mullens noted he didn’t even know this moment was coming as there was uncertainty about the quarterback throughout the week with C.J. Beathard having injured his wrist a week ago.
“I found out on Monday or Tuesday, I can’t even remember, but we were in meetings and the quarterback’s coach said I was getting all the reps today,” Mullens said. “I said, ‘Alright, here we go.’ Our preparation stayed consistent. I study the plan and always try to be ready when my name is called and it was called.”
It’s unclear if Mullens will be the starter moving forward, but he has won over his head coach and his players couldn’t rave about his effort enough.
“I’ll definitely consider (him being the starter), but definitely not thinking about that right now,” Shanahan said. “Our whole team played very well. Nick definitely did. It was a very good all-around win and we aren’t done. Hopefully this will lead us to others.”
For the time being, Mullens is happy to be celebrating his first win with his teammates and will continue working to be whatever the team needs.