Things will be a lot different this time around for quarterback Nick Mullens, as he returns to the 49ers' starting lineup.
When Mullens last heard his name announced with the 49ers' starters, there were few expectations and no pressure as the team was heading toward a 4-12 finish of the 2018 season.
But Mullens' steady -- and prolific -- play and the 49ers' aim to remain in the thick of the NFC playoff picture places a lot on the shoulders of Mullens as the team heads back to MetLife Stadium on Sunday to face the New York Giants.
Coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed Friday morning during an appearance on KNBR's "Murph & Mac" that starter Jimmy Garoppolo is out with a high right ankle sprain. Mullens steps back into the starting lineup with C.J. Beathard moving into the backup role.
“Nick’s on. He’s a machine," Shanahan said.
"It’s going to be the same offense, just a different guy running the huddle and executing stuff.”
The 49ers cut Mullens twice before he stuck with the club for good. Originally signed as an undrafted rookie from Southern Mississippi, Mullens was released before the start of the 2017 and '18 seasons.
Mullens was promoted from the practice squad after three weeks of the '18 season when Garoppolo sustained a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee.
When Beathard was banged up and struggled, Mullens took over as the 49ers' starting quarterback.
And he has experienced job security ever since.
Mullens averaged 285 yards passing per game to close out the 2018 season. In the history of the NFL, only Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton averaged more passing yards per game in their first eight NFL starts.
Mullens finished 2018 with 2,277 yards passing and a 64.2 completion percentage. He threw 13 touchdown passes with 10 interceptions for a 90.9 passer rating.
After that season, Mullens did not attempt another pass until he entered the 49ers' Week 2 game at halftime when Garoppolo could not play any longer due to his high ankle injury.
Mullens completed eight of 11 passes for 71 yards with no touchdowns and one interception, as the 49ers finished off a 31-13 victory over the Jets.
Mullens said he has a greater understanding of the 49ers' offense and opposing defenses than when he last played a full game.
“You can say when I first started, it was not a surprise to myself but I didn’t really know -- you know, it was my first time doing it,” Mullens said following the game against the Jets. “So now I just have a higher expectation for myself. That’s what carries me and pushes me.
“It’s my fourth year. There’s really no excuses to why I shouldn’t perform. And so that’s kind of what has kept pushing me.”