When the 49ers take on the Chicago Bears Sunday, quarterback Nick Mullens will be coming off his best game since his debut against the Raiders on Nov. 1.
In leading the Niners to a 26-23 overtime victory over the Seahawks this past weekend, Mullens was 20-of-29 passing for 275 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 110.6.
“I thought yesterday was probably Nick’s best game,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said the day after the win over the Seahawks. “Especially the way he finished it in that fourth quarter. He didn’t complete a lot of balls but (he got) rid of the ball on some really tough protection situations.”
Yet as Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat wrote this week, Shanahan often has sounded less than enthusiastic about Mullens, who now has started six consecutive games and is 3-3 as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. As Cohn wrote this week, Shanahan “shows all the enthusiasm of someone discussing his laundry” when talking about Mullens, though he’s often been enthusiastic about the play of C.J. Beathard, the team’s primary backup to the now-injured Jimmy Garoppolo, who was the team’s starter until he was hurt.
Yet as Keiana Martin of 49ers.com wrote this week, Mullens has earned a 72.1 passer grade by the analytic website Pro Football Focus since he took over as starter, which ranks No. 13 in the league since his debut in that 34-3 rout of the Raiders.
And, over his past three starts, Mullens has a 101.4 passer rating and is averaging 340.3 yards per game and 9.3 yards per pass attempt while winning two of three decisions, including back-to-back wins. The 49ers, 4-10, hadn’t won consecutive games all season.
In fact, Mullens’ production compares favorably to Garoppolo in 2017, when Garoppolo led the 49ers to five straight wins to finish the schedule.
Over the six games he’s started, Mullens is 131-of-203 (64.5 percent) for 10 TDs and six interceptions, 1,754 yards and an average of 8.6 yards per pass attempt, while being sacked 13 times. His QB rating: 96.0.
Over the last six games of 2017 (five starts and one late-game appearance), Garoppolo was 120-of-178 (67.4) for seven TDs and five interceptions, 1,560 yards and an average of 8.7 yards per pass attempt, while being sacked eight times. His QB rating: 96.2.
Beathard, in his five starts this season, was 0-5. His stats: 102-of-169 passing (60.4) for eight TDs and seven interceptions, 1,252 yards and 7.4 yards per attempt, while being sacked 18 times. His QB rating: 81.8.
Shanahan has said Mullens and Beathard will battle next summer for the No. 1 backup role behind Garoppolo, but it seems clear — based on similar sample sizes – that Mullens at this point is better than Beathard, and even close to Garoppolo as a producer.
Mullens will have two more games to help make his case.
Sunday’s game at Levi’s Stadium is set to kick off at 1:05 p.m.