SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In the closing moments of a Week 2 win against the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens accidentally knocked over a pylon in the front corner of the end zone as he ran to celebrate a touchdown. As he ran back to the sideline, he went back to the pylon and put it back in its place.
"I was just kind of messing around the first time, and then today an O-lineman grabbed it and was like, 'Hey, set it up,’" Mullens said with a laugh. "I was like, 'All right, I guess I’ll keep riding with it.'"
Whether Mullens will get a pylon opportunity for a third straight week remains to be seen. But he proved once again Sunday that the Niners should have no problem continuing to ride with him if starter Jimmy Garoppolo and his injured ankle aren't ready to play next week.
With Garoppolo inactive as he nurses a high right ankle sprain, Mullens made his first start since Dec. 30, 2018, against the Giants. If he had any rust to knock off, it happened quickly.
Even without the services of injured stars such as tight end George Kittle, receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Raheem Mostert, Mullens didn't flinch. After a couple of early hiccups, he completed 25 of 36 passes for 343 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. His passer rating of 108.9 was the third best of his career.
In the second half, Mullens completed 11 of 12 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. His lone incompletion of the half came when he fired a pass into the ground to avoid taking a sack. Mullens was particularly sharp on play-action, completing 11 of 17 passes for 138 yards and a score on such throws.
"Nick was great," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "He was very poised. We went on a lot of long drives today, which, they're better than not scoring, but long drives can get a little bit exhausting, especially for me. I don't want to have to call that many plays. But Nick kept his composure."
Indeed, the 49ers didn't have many of their trademark big plays. The longest gain of the day was a 26-yard completion to running back Jerick McKinnon after Mullens escaped pressure and spotted McKinnon free down the field. That left Mullens to take what the Giants were giving him and forced him to be precise and focused throughout the game.
By the time Mullens & Co. were finished, they'd run 73 offensive plays, had the ball for a whopping 39:44 and hadn't punted in the game for the first time since a 55-17 win against the Detroit Lions in Week 16 of the 1993 season. Mullens has thrown for 220-plus yards in each of his nine career starts, which ties the franchise record held by Joe Montana.
Mullens credited his preparation throughout the week for his success in directing the offense.
"I’m not the fastest, most athletic guy, but I think I can react pretty quick," he said.
The 49ers return home for the first time in 10 days after getting a pair of victories on the East Coast. With so many injuries piled up, their next two games -- against the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins -- loom large before the Niners get into the meat of their schedule. If all goes well on the recovery front, the 49ers should welcome back many of their key injured players around the time the schedule toughens.
In the meantime, Mullens has erased any lingering doubt about whether he can keep the ship afloat and the pylons in place.
"Nick is who he always is," tackle Mike McGlinchey said. "We’re very, very confident in his abilities, his understanding of what we do. He’s been in our system for a long time, and he’s had success when he’s been in there. ... It’s a testament to him and his preparation and how lucky we are to have him sitting behind Jimmy. I don’t think many teams can be that confident."