For Nick Mullens, 2018 is a crash course in pro football. The second-year pro — getting his first game action for the 49ers because of injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard — has done a lot of good things through seven starts and exceeded expectations for a second-year formerly undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi.
Despite an injury-depleted roster and being thrust into the lineup from the practice squad, Mullens has at times been brilliant in helping the 4-11 49ers to wins in three of his seven starts.
And, in a 14-9 loss to the Bears this past Sunday, Mullens again was solid, completing 22-of-38 throws for 241 yards and getting the ball away quick enough to take just one sack. Even the interception he threw wasn’t really his fault. His pass was on target but bounced off the intended receiver’s hands to a Bears defender.
But Mullens also knows he made an error in judgment in the fourth quarter that might have cost his team a go-ahead touchdown.
On a fourth-and-4 play late in the game, Mullens rolled to the right to buy time from the Bears’ pass rush and threw deep downfield to Marquise Goodwin. The pass was incomplete, and Chicago ran out the clock to secure the win.
But Mullens had a wide-open alley to run, and could have easily picked up a first down to give his team a few more plays.
After the game, Mullens admitted it was a mistake.
“I’ve just got to handle the situation better,” Mullens told Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee. “I should have ran. I didn’t run. In the heat of battle, a lot of things are happening fast, split-second decisions. Saw ‘Quise down the field. Tried to give him a chance instead of making the simple play. I didn’t make the simple play.”
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan, however, knows it’s hard to make instant decisions when under duress.
“He did a good job today, especially throwing it 38 times, protecting the ball fairly well,” Shanahan said. “I know we’d like to have that one (play) back, but definitely wasn’t a bad decision, just a hair off ‘Quise’s hand. He hung in there. Everyone misses a couple, but he also made a couple that weren’t there. … I thought Nick, under the circumstances, played very well.”
For the season, Mullens has completed 63.5 percent of his throws for 1,995 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with a quarterback rating of 91.2.
Mullens will get one final start when the season comes to a close Sunday in Los Angeles against the 12-3 Rams. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.