Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Which Nick Mullens Will Show up for 49ers’ Pivotal Game vs. Bills?

Dec 7, 2020 at 11:05 AM


To this point in Nick Mullens' NFL career, San Francisco 49ers fans have seen two vastly different versions of the undrafted backup quarterback out of Southern Miss. When he made his regular-season debut in 2018 in the memorable Thursday Night Football game against the rival Oakland Raiders, many thought the bright lights of a primetime football game would be too much for Mullens. However, as The Faithful recalls, he rose to the occasion and played beautifully, dominating the Raiders from kickoff to the victory formation. Later that same year, The Faithful also witnessed Mullens lead an overtime victory over the despised Seattle Seahawks; a feat few had been able to accomplish in recent memory. That season had its ups and downs with Mullens at the helm. Ultimately the 49ers lost their season when Garoppolo went down that year and finished with a record of 4-12. However, Mullens played respectfully enough to inspire some intrigue in the fanbase.

That season seems like eons ago. Since then, 49ers fans have seen Mullens play like a backup quarterback in the NFL. He certainly has his limitations, as most backup quarterbacks do. He can manage a game and play mistake-free football that will allow a team as deep and talented as the 49ers to remain competitive. However, he lacks any truly special traits that would warrant a significant run as a starting signal-caller.

This season has been brutal for the team and its fans. Injuries have decimated this supremely talented roster and left the 49ers grasping for straws as they desperately cling to their playoff hopes. Yet, here they are, suddenly right in the mix of the NFC Wild Card race and (dare I say) with even an outside chance of a second straight division title. Tonight's contest vs. the Buffalo Bills proves to be the most crucial game of this frustrating 2020 season to this point. Members of The Faithful once again have a glimmer of hope that this season isn't over just yet and mock drafts can be put off a bit longer. The team is getting healthy at the right time for this must-win showdown in primetime.

What Mullens lacks in physical traits, he makes up for in leadership and toughness. His teammates respect him because he takes a beating and pulls himself off the turf and keeps fighting. They respect him because he cares about this team, as was apparent when he took time in a press conference this week to praise recently injured slot cornerback Jamar Taylor who had been performing admirably before tearing his ACL last week against the Rams. Nick Mullens is a player whom his teammates want to rally around.

So which Nick Mullens will take the field at State Farm Stadium tonight? Will it be the Nick Mullens from two years ago who gave The Faithful hope, or will it be the Nick Mullens from the Eagles game earlier this year who seemed rattled from the get-go? What was the difference between those two versions of Mullens? One can argue that with expectations comes pressure and being able to deliver under pressure is what separates the good players from the great in this league. Mullens had nothing to lose in that first start against the Raiders two seasons ago. The same can be said about the unexpected win over the Seahawks that same year.

One can even look at Garoppolo and wonder how he performed at such an exceptional level for his first seven starts, beating several contenders during that stretch to finish the 2017 season. That year, expectations were low, and there was no pressure. In fact, the playbook was significantly limited since Garoppolo was acquired just prior to the trade deadline. In both cases with Garoppolo and Mullens, the two quarterbacks were able to simply go out and do what they love: play football. They had nothing to lose. They didn't have to worry about going through progressions and being a technician of Shanahan's offense. They simply had to go out and play the game that they love and have excelled at their entire lives. There was no pressure.

This year, the expectations for the franchise are sky-high, coming off a season that saw a Lombardi Trophy slip through the team's fingers. Coach Shanahan has groomed Mullens (along with Beathard and Garoppolo) for multiple seasons now and expects them to be able to handle a deeper playbook, go through their progressions, and ultimately perform at a higher level. With all of that comes higher expectations from teammates, coaches, and Faithful.

Once again, Nick Mullens will be under the lights in primetime, but this time everything is on the line! Will he be able to deliver when expectations are peaking?
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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