Holy, Nick Mullens. The backup QB threw for 343 yards to lead a unit that scored on seven of its nine possessions — and the lone scoreless drives ended with a missed field goal and a game-ending kneel down. They didn’t have a turnover, went 8-of-12 on third down and had six drives of at least eight plays to control the ball for nearly 40 minutes. Mullens was the star, but he was boosted by a deep and largely unheralded – Ross Dwelley! Jeff Wilson Jr.! – supporting cast. Rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk showed the first signs of why the Kyle Shanahan traded up to draft him.
What would have happened to poor deer-in-the-headlights QB Daniel Jones if the 49ers had their real defense? Without their top two edge rushers and top three CBs, the 49ers didn’t allow a touchdown, forced three turnovers, surrendered 231 yards and didn’t allow the Giants to reach the red zone. CBs Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson were a huge reason Jones’ posted an unsightly passer rating (56.6). DE Kerry Hyder (1 sack, 3 QB hits) was quite a free-agent find.
Long snapper Kyle Nelson developed a nightmare case of the yips that forced the 49ers to replace him with offensive tackle Justin Skule after the last in a series of wayward snaps. It was bad enough to ask whether the nine-year vet will be up to be performing his duties in Week 4. The special teams were otherwise outstanding. The Giants brought three kickoffs out of the end zone and began those drives at the 14-, 18- and 21-yard lines. Robbie Gould made kicks of 52 and 32 yards and missed a 55-yarder, which featured a low snap.
Yes, the defending NFC champs have some serious depth. But how many other head coaches could extract such performances from the likes of Mullens, Dwelley and Wilson, none of whom were drafted? Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh prefers to generate pass-rush pressure without blitzing, but, without Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, he picked opportune spots to send blitzes. One example: Heavy pressure forced Jones to fire an incompletion on 3rd-and-9 at the 49ers’ 29-yard line early in the second half when it was still a game.
The schedule will eventually get considerably tougher, although the Eagles and Dolphins are up next. Performances like this suggest the 49ers can still be title contenders this season: Most of their injured players will be back on the field fairly soon.
— Eric Branch