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11:09PM

Eli disproves the idea he’s done—at Niners’ expense

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Eli Manning didn’t look so bad, did he? All those stories he was finished, about to be benched by the New York Giants? The San Francisco 49ers could only wish he wasn’t in the game.

   And also wish they could play defense when required—late in the game.

  Manning was a very efficient 37-year-old quarterback Monday night/ He was a very efficient quarterback Monday night for whatever age, throwing three touchdown passes including one to Russell Shepard with 53 seconds to play that gave the supposedly helpless Giants a 27-23 win over the Niners.

   Neither team is very good, being kind, but the Niners had won their previous game, the Giants had lost five in a row, and fans and writers back in New York, where everyone has an opinion, were pleading for Kyle Lauletta to replace Manning.

  First-year coach Fritz Shurmur  stayed the course, which coaches tend to do, and so the Giants have a 2-7 record, while the 49ers, entering bye week with a thud—they had a 20-10 lead in the third quarter—enter their bye week at 2-8.

  “We should have won the game,” said Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers coach. But they didn’t. And when you get down to it, it’s the result that counts not a lot of possibilities, a lot of should haves and could haves.

   This was the second start for the Niners rookie QB, Nick Mullins, who after looking brilliant against the Raiders—doesn’t every quarterback?—looked like a rookie, if a competent one, against the Giants

  Mullins did complete 27 passes of 39 attempts, one for a touchdown, but he also threw two interceptions. Manning, careful, capable,  as a veteran  under pressure has to be, was 19 of 31 for 188 yards and the three touchdowns, two to Odell Beckham.

  After the winner, running back Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, said he went over to Manning and told him, man, you’ve been doing this since I was like 12. That’s Eli.

  Barkley ran for 67 yards.

  But the stats are misleading. The Niners had the ball more than 24 minutes out of the total 60 minutes and outgained the Giants, 374 yards to 277. What the Giants had was Manning, the two-time Super Bowl champ, and the 36th game-winning drive of his career.

  “We found a way to finally score some points,” said Shurmur. “I watched when I wasn’t coaching here as he engineered drives at the end of the game. That’s what Eli is really good at. I thought that was terrific.”

   A key holding penalty on San Francisco linebacker Malcolm Smith helped keep alive the Giants’ final drive, but Shanahan, the Niners coach, had no complaint. “He grabbed him,” said Shanahan, “They called it.”

   Shanahan’s assessment of Mullins was unenthusiastic: ”I think he did some good things,” he said, “and some things we need to improve on.

  “He didn’t get gun shy. Played his game. I don’t think the picks affected him.”

   They affected the Niners, of course. Two turnovers to none for the Giants.

  “I thought we put ourselves in a position that we should have won the game,” was the Shanahan lament. Up 20-10 after the first drive in the third quarter. Gave up a big kick return.”

  And then Manning worked his magic.

“He was getting the ball out fast,” said Niners defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. “They had a game plan to try not to get Eli hit.”

  Manning, sacked only once, was elated by the performance.

“That was big,” said Manning. “We’ve been good at the two-minute drive this year. Unfortunately we’ve been down two scores or left too much time. But when we needed touchdowns we got them. I told the guys this week, we’ve worked too hard not to be rewarded with a win.”

   They were rewarded, at the 49ers’ expense.

12:04AM

An undrafted rookie QB, Mullens, wins for the 49ers

  SANTA CLARA, Calif. ---So it’s not exactly another version of a star is born. And the opponent was the sorrowful soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders.  But the way Nick Mullens turned his first NFL game into a success for him and the San Francisco 49ers was the stuff Hollywood has been dishing out for years.

  Kid steps off the bench and, voila, plays like well, Brett Favre, who went to the same school as Mullens, Southern Mississippi. Sure, that’s over dramatizing the situation, especially since this game, even if nationally televised, didn’t resonate much farther east than Stockton.

  But for the 49ers, who with only their second win of a season in which they’ve used three quarterbacks, a rather convincing, 34-3, domination of  the Raiders, who can’t win on the road whether  they’re playing 5,000 miles from home (temporarily Oakland) as in London or 45 miles as  in Santa Clara, Thursday night.

  San Francisco started the season at QB with the guy who is supposed to be the future, Jimmy Garoppolo. His knee was torn up in Game Three. On came C.J. Beathard, who lost all four of his starts and incurred a wrist injury in the fourth, What now? That guy over there on the practice squad, Mullens.

  Except if you heed his teammates or his coach, Kyle Shanahan, he’s not just “that guy,” but someone unique, someone obsessed, someone who listens to crowd noise on his headset while reading game plans, the better to get acclimated.

  Mullens, who went undrafted the spring of 2017 despite breaking many of Favre’s school records, was signed as a free agent, and basically spent two years running the backups—the non-roster wannabees—against the starting defense.

“He did an awesome job today,” said Shanahan of Mullens, who completed his first six passes—did we mention the Raiders defense is lacking?—and finished 16 of 22 for 262 yards and three touchdowns

  No less impressively, Mullens didn’t show an iota of uncertainty. He took control immediately, and the rest of the offense knew it.

  “He showed poise in and out of the huddle,” said Shanahan of Mullens. “I was not surprised. The game is not too big for him. He showed what he could in the preseason. He didn’t know he would start until (Wednesday). He’s studied our game plans for two years. He walked in prepared. That makes a huge difference when you have to change quarterbacks.”

  Favre, the frequent all-pro with Green Bay, phoned Mullens after his triumph.

  “It was pretty cool,” said Mullens. “Definitely an honor. He told me how proud of me he was. He sent me a message before the game, ‘Just be yourself,’ and that’s what I tried to do.”

  The question was expected.  With Beathard’s struggles and Mullens lack of them, so far, why doesn’t Shanahan quickly decide that Mullens is the starter from now on?

  “I don’t feel the struggles are only on C.J.” said the coach. “It’s a mistake to say if you win it’s because of the quarterback or if you lose it’s because of the quarterback.”  

 As noted from the 1-7 Raiders, losing is a team function. So is winning, but the Raiders are miles from winning. Yes, they had a 3-0 lead for a moment or two against the Niners, but after that Oakland QB Derek Carr was swarmed over by the Niners defense—and the Raider defense was swarmed under.

   Carr was sacked seven times.  Mullens never was sacked. The Niners gained 405 yards, the Raiders only 242.

  “A very frustrating night,” said Carr, who was 16 of 21 for 171 yards and mercifully was yanked in favor of AJ McCarron when Oakland had no chance—which in truth may have been quite early   

   “That was terrible,’’ said Carr of the offense. “I wish I had more to tell you.”

    What the Raiders high-priced, celebrity coach, Jon Gruden, told us  was the team’s effort wasn’t bad but that key offensive linemen were missing, including Kolton Miller, this spring’s No. 1 draft pick, who as left tackle protects the blind side.

  “A short week,” said Gruden. “I’m not going to make excuses about the injuries on the line, but those are very difficult to overcome.”

  So is an undrafted rookie quarterback who never had taken a snap and in a game under the lights at Levi’s Stadium made a great first impression.