Santa Clara, Calif. — Nick Mullens got several hundred congratulatory text messages, a phone call from Brett Favre and his Twitter account verified.
Delivering the most productive game by a quarterback in his NFL debut since the merger leads to many accolades.
Mullens threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns and the San Francisco 49ers thoroughly dominated the Battle of the Bay, beating the Oakland Raiders 34-3 on Thursday night.
The former undrafted free agent out of Favre’s alma mater Southern Mississippi finished 16 for 22 in place of the injured C.J. Beathard and had a 151.9 passer rating, the highest for a quarterback with at least 15 attempts in an NFL debut since the 1970 merger.
“I think I’m here for a reason. This is my opportunity to prove that I can play,” Mullens said. “Today’s thing was just attack your job and worry about what matters. What mattered most tonight was the team and how we played.”
The Niners (2-7) couldn’t have played much better in snapping a six-game losing streak and winning for just the second time in two years without Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.
Mullens threw TD passes to Pierre Garcon and Kendrick Bourne on the opening two drives and connected on a 71-yard one-handed catch-and-run play to George Kittle to set up a third TD pass to Kittle. Raheem Mostert added a 52-yard TD run and the defense generated eight sacks for the first time since 2009.
But the story of the game was Mullens, got rid of the ball quickly and took advantages of several breakdowns in coverage for big plays, including the 24-yard TD pass to a wide-open Garcon on the opening drive.
“It was cool that he didn’t change under the big lights and these circumstances,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We’re not really surprised. We’ve seen him do it in practice. He plays with a lot of confidence.”
With Garoppolo out for the season and Beathard having lost nine of 10 career starts, the inevitable question will be whether Mullens will take over as starter for the next game Nov. 12 against the New York Giants.
“We’ll definitely consider it,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I’m definitely not thinking about it right now. Our whole team played very well. They definitely did.”
The Raiders (1-7) clearly didn’t, losing for the fourth straight time, getting outscored by 85 points during the skid.
“I know it’s not looking pretty right now,” coach Jon Gruden said. “I’ve heard a lot of negativity over the last six, seven months and rightfully so. But we’re going to build a championship football team here.”
In what was perhaps the worst prime-time matchup in NFL history, only the Raiders played down to expectations. They provided little resistance on defense against an undrafted quarterback making his NFL debut, did nothing offensively after driving for as field goal on the opening drive and put together the most listless performance yet in Gruden’s second stint as coach.
Carr finished 16 for 22 for 171 yards and was sacked seven times before being replaced by AJ McCarron in the fourth quarter. McCarron was sacked once behind a banged-up offensive line.
“It’s a frustrating thing to be sitting on the record you have, be going through some of the things we’re going through as an offense and still not being able to put points on the board,” tight end Jared Cook said. “It’s definitely frustrating because we know the talent we have in this room is way better than that and way better than what we portray on the field.”
Marrone assumes blame for Jags’ lag
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone is shouldering the blame for the team’s four-game losing streak, saying he “hasn’t done a good enough job for whatever reason to get everyone’s mind in the right place.”
Marrone insists he’s not trying to be a “martyr, a shield or anything like that.”
Truth is he’s protecting everyone: top executive Tom Coughlin, general manager Dave Caldwell, inconsistent quarterback Blake Bortles, unavailable running back Leonard Fournette and dozens more underperforming players on an underachieving team.
The Jaguars (3-5) have been one of the NFL’s biggest busts in 2018, especially last month when they went 0-for-October and looked nothing like the team that advanced to the AFC championship game nine months earlier.
“There is a story out there about this team. It is an ugly story,” said Marrone, who is counting on his team to regroup during its Week 9 bye.
“But the story hasn’t ended. We can still control how this story reads. When we get away, we have to think long and hard about it. We have to come back and we have to figure out what the story is going to be on the 2018 team.”
Winston talks of benching
Speaking for the first time since he was benched in favor of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick,Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston on Thursday referred to it “as a minor setback for a major comeback.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been benched,” Winston said Thursday. “It’s humbling, and it’s definitely something I can grow from and learn from and you know what, it just adds to the story. I just have to keep working hard. Like I’ve said, every year my goal is to get better and better, and right now, I’m not getting the job done, so I have been replaced and I’m moving forward, yeah.”
Winston, who found his way to the bench after throwing 10 interceptions in four games since returning from his three-game suspension to open the season, knows how he got here. He said he didn’t expect to be benched this week against Carolina, but understands why.
“I didn’t expect it,” Winston said, “but one thing about me, I can be honest with myself in terms of playing on the field, and turnovers. … If you turn the ball over at any (level), college, high school, it’s going to put your team in a bad position to win and we need to win as a team. I definitely understood why coach (Dirk) Koetter went with Fitz.”
Asked whether he believes Winston’s future remains with the Bucs, he said, “Yeah, hopefully.”
Young guns are old rivals
Back when their chances of playing quarterback in the NFL were still in the dream stages, Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield sat in an apartment near Texas Tech’s campus and played video games.
It was 2013.
Three years later, they appeared to do the same thing on the field.
“That game was crazy,” Mahomes said, remembering the October night in 2016 when he and Mayfield re-wrote the NCAA record book.
The quarterbacks and friends will renew their old rivalry — and perhaps embark on a new one as pros — Sunday when Mahomes leads Kansas City and the Chiefs’ high-flying, high-octane offense, into Cleveland to play Mayfield and the Browns, who are again in disarray following the firings this week of coach Hue Jackson and coordinator Todd Haley.
The previous time they met between the hash marks, Mahomes and Mayfield put on a stunning statistical show unlike anything college football had seen before.
They combined for 12 touchdown passes, 1,279 yards passing and broke the total yardage mark with 1,708 yards — 854 for each school.
Looking back, Mayfield, who threw seven TD passes to Mahomes’ five and led the Sooners to a 66-59 win, still can’t fathom what happened.
Longtime NFL writer dies
Paul Zimmerman, the longtime Sports Illustrated NFL writer known as “Dr. Z” for his analytical approach, died Thursday. He was 86.
NBC Sports football writer Peter King confirmed Zimmerman’s death. King worked with Zimmerman at Sports Illustrated, and completed Zimmerman’s autobiography, “Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer.”
Zimmerman had three strokes in 2008 that ended his writing career after 29 years as Sports Illustrated’s lead pro football writer.