Through most of the first half Sunday, Nick Mullens was in full stand-by mode on the 49ers’ sideline.
Not since the final games of the 2018 season had 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan summoned Mullens into meaningful game action. Mullens, the team’s backup quarterback behind starter Jimmy Garoppolo, suited up for every game last season but did not attempt a pass.
But after taking over in the second half of the 49ers’ 31-13 victory over the New York Jets, Mullens can be expected to remain in the lineup for a while as Garoppolo recovers from a high right ankle sprain.
“Coach Shanahan says it at the start of the season and pretty much every week,” Mullens said. “Everybody has a role on this football team. All 53 of us can help the team get better in one way or another.
“And that’s more true now than it has been. We just have to stick together, rally, believe in each other and keep executing at a high level.”
Garoppolo sustained his painful injury just four minutes into Sunday’s game when his lower right leg bent awkwardly while getting sacked by Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Garoppolo was in obvious pain but managed to stay on the field to complete the first two quarters of action.
Mullens entered the game at the beginning of the third quarter with the 49ers leading 21-3. He played the final 29 snaps, and completed eight of 11 pass attempts for 71 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
“I thought I did a decent job of operating the game,” Mullens said. “You come in with a three-possession lead, so your job is just to manage the game, move the chains, and create a rhythm.”
Mullens signed with the 49ers following the 2017 draft after a record-setting career at Southern Mississippi. The 49ers cut him prior to his rookie season and again the following year. Both times, he bounced back to the team’s practice squad.
After Garoppolo went on injured reserve just three weeks into the 2018 season with a torn ACL, Mullens was promoted to the active roster and he has been entrenched on the roster ever since.
Mullens started the final eight games of the 2018 season and proved his value to the organization. He averaged 285 yards passing per game to rank fourth all-time in most yards passing through eight games in NFL history behind only Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.
Mullens beat out C.J. Beathard, a third-round draft pick in 2017, for the 49ers’ backup job at the beginning of last season and again this summer.
Now, he said he feels even more confident and prepared with all of the work he’s done behind the scenes to step back onto the field and lead the 49ers’ offense.
“You can say when I first started, it was not a surprise to myself but I didn’t really know -- you know, it was my first time doing it,” Mullens said. “So now I just have a higher expectation for myself. That’s what carries me and pushes me.
“It’s my fourth year. There’s really no excuses to why I shouldn’t perform. And so that’s kind of what has kept pushing me.”
The 49ers will spend the week at The Greenbrier, a resort in West Virginia, where they will practice and prepare for their upcoming game against the New York Giants, back at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Mullens said it was a valuable experience for him to play one half of action against the Jets to get re-familiarized with all that goes into managing a huddle and competing in a real game.
“There are so many little details,” he said. “I know I only played a half, but when you get into the game, you focus, and operationally and things like that, it’s a little bit different. So it’s fun to experience that as well.”