Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

49ers-Cowboys: Shanahan unhappy with turnovers but not ready to decide on Nick Mullens’ status

Dec 20, 2020 at 2:39 PM--

Will the San Francisco 49ers make a change at the quarterback position after three more turnovers from Nick Mullens on Sunday?

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan wasn't ready to make that decision after his team's 41-33 Sunday afternoon loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but the possibility remains on the table given the continuing issues Mullens is having holding onto the ball.

Mullens has gotten the overwhelming majority of snaps at quarterback in the absence of injured starter Jimmy Garoppolo, but he hasn't helped his chances of staying ahead of backup C.J. Beathard over the final two weeks of the season due to the turnover problems he once again showed on Sunday. Mullens threw two fourth-quarter interceptions and lost one fumble in the loss to the Cowboys, which led to 17 combined Cowboys points. The 49ers had one more turnover in the game -- a fumbled punt return by Richie James -- which gave them four on the day compared to zero from the Cowboys. But after the game, the focus was on Mullens, who is now at 12 interceptions and four lost fumbles in ten games this season.

In a 23-15 loss to Washington last week, Mullins had two turnovers, one of which was a pick-six that led Shanahan to consider pulling him from the game in favor of Beathard. Beathard did get inserted in place of Mullens late in the game against the Cowboys, but that was due to injury and not the level of Mullens' play.

Shanahan told reporters after the game that Mullens was playing better Sunday than he was against Washington and that there wasn't any thought of making a change before Mullens was forced to leave.

"I thought he'd been playing well," Shanahan said. "We were in a tie game, and I'm not going to take a guy out in the fourth quarter in a tie game right after he throws his first interception, especially when the ball was going to the right spot."

Even though Shanahan liked much of what he saw from Mullens (21 for 36, 219 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) against the Cowboys, he hasn't ruled out the possibility of making a change. Shanahan was non-committal when asked about the issue after the game, but said he wouldn't reveal anything to the press without telling Beathard and Mullens first.

"We'll see. I haven't thought about that," Shanahan said. "I'll definitely let C.J. and Nick know first though."

Just as Shanahan didn't seem to put too much blame on Mullens for his first interception (a diving pick by safety Donovan Wilson), neither did he criticize Mullens for his fumble that came in the first quarter on a strip-sack by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. The fumble led to a Cowboys touchdown that put the 49ers in a 14-0 deficit, but Shanahan gave credit to Lawrence for making the play rather than putting the blame on Mullens and the offense for letting it happen.

"I thought Lawrence made a hell of a play on the strip," Shanahan said. "The protection was good. We were in the pocket. He got around there, we were pushing him by, and he got his arm on it as Nick was throwing. I thought that was an unbelievable play by him."

Shanahan didn't feel the same about Mullens' second interception, which was thrown over the middle into the hands of cornerback Anthony Brown.

"The second one I thought was a lot worse than the first one," Shanahan said.

Regardless of the circumstances of each turnover, there's little doubt Shanahan was frustrated over the fact that his team lost a winnable game for the second week in a row due to giving away the football. Shanahan says he'll keep working with Mullens to get him to make the right decisions, but sooner or later Mullens will find himself on the sidelines if he can't keep the offense on the field.

"You just coach him, try to get him to go to the right spot with the ball," Shanahan said. "I thought there was a couple he probably shouldn't have attempted with where it was on the field. Nick's done some good things, but when you turn the ball over that much, it's going to be tough to keep getting opportunities."

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