In what has become a lost season, the 49ers, for the first time in months, had multiple reasons to celebrate Thursday night.
San Francisco (2-8) won the likely Battle of the Bay finale by doing two things they hadn’t done much this season — get big plays and get after the quarterback.
The result was a 34-3 thrashing of the Oakland Raiders (1-7).
Second-year pro Nick Mullens, in his NFL debut, was spectacular, making accurate short throws and letting his teammates do the rest. His four longest completions went for 24, 25, 53 and 71 yards. Only the 25-yarder traveled more than 15 yards before being caught.
Mullens said he tried to stick to what he’s learned both as a backup and during his limited work as the first-string quarterback in practice this week:
“Study your progressions. Because you know where to go with the football based on the look that you get. That was the biggest thing. I knew that if I could just stick to my progressions, then I would have a chance.”
Mullens finished 16-of-22 for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
He favored Pierre Garçon early on, completing three of his first six throws including his first career touchdown pass, to the veteran wide receiver. Garçon finished with just those three receptions for 56 yards and the touchdown.
Mullens then turned to the ascendant George Kittle, who had yet another big performance, catching four passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke earlier in the week about Mullens’ constant preparation and readiness to start. He knew the team was confident in their new quarterback:
“The game’s not too big for Nick. He’s very poised. He’s always locked in. He earned a lot of respect in the preseason. The way he handled the two days of long walkthroughs, I mean, he’s a machine out there.”
In regards to Mullens’ dedication, Kittle said he heard about an odd technique that he uses:
“My favorite story that I’ve heard, so far, is that when we have away games, he puts on his headphones super loud with crowd noise, and then he calls the plays out loud so he gets used to calling them [like that].”
Asked where he gets the crowd noise, Mullens responded “Apple Music.”
The running game also aided the new starter, particularly Raheem Mostert. Mostert had 86 yards on just seven carries, 52 of which were gained on his big touchdown run in the third quarter. Mostert unfortunately broke his arm late in the 4th quarter and will likely miss the rest of the season, according to Shanahan.
What shouldn’t get overlooked is the 49ers defensive effort.
A unit that had given up at least 24 points in seven of their eight games so far held the Raiders to just three points. Making that even more astounding is that the lone field goal came on the very first drive of the game.
DeForest Buckner, who recorded San Francisco’s second sack of the night, noticed the congruency of the defensive line as a key to their success:
“Guys are getting used to each other. Feeding off each other and reading. Say I got a guy outside of me and I’m going high, he knows to wrap underneath. Little things like that. Reading each other on the go.”