The two-game swing to New Jersey to face the New York Jets and New York Giants took a physical toll on the 49ers.
But the 49ers got very healthy in the win column with back-to-back blowout victories on the East Coast. The shorthanded 49ers got strong contributions from their backups -- and their backups to backups -- in a 36-9 victory over the winless Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Six players who would have been in the 49ers’ starting lineup Sunday were inactive due to injuries.
Moreover, tight end Jordan Reed (ankle/knee) and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (concussion) left Sunday’s game with injuries.
Even with 10 starters (including those on injured reserve) out of the lineup, the 49ers (2-1) were clearly the better team. And it was not even close.
The 49ers kept pace in the loaded NFC West with a much-needed victory before heading back to Levi’s Stadiums for Weeks 4 and 5 against the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins.
Here are three takeaways from the 49ers’ decisive Week 3 win:
Mullens manages a victory
Quarterback Nick Mullens made his first start since the end of the 2018 season. At times, it showed. But, ultimately, Mullens managed the game just as coach Kyle Shanahan drew it up.
Mullens had a very productive game as he took over for Jimmy Garoppolo, who watched from the sideline due to a high ankle sprain.
The 49ers moved the ball in the first half but were stopped short of the end zone most of the time. The 49ers scored a touchdown on Jerick McKinnon’s 10-yard run late in the first half.
But they also did not cash in on their opportunities. Robbie Gould connected on field goals of 52, 32 and 26 yards. He missed from 55 yards.
Mullens missed a couple of potential touchdown passes in the first half. He threw late and behind rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk. He also led Reed too much out the back of the end zone on another play. The 49ers had a touchdown nullified when Mullens’ apparent 4-yard touchdown pass to McKinnon came back due to Daniel Brunskill’s penalty for illegal use of hands.
The 49ers had a 16-6 lead at halftime.
Mullens caught his stride in the second half, as the 49ers put the game away. He finished the game with 25 completions on 36 attempts for 343 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. His passer rating was 108.9.
Verrett makes his mark
Cornerback Jason Verrett made his first start since Week 1 of the 2017 season. He certainly did not look rusty. Verrett had three tackles and a quarterback hit while holding up well in coverage.
The 49ers played most of Sunday’s game without their top three cornerbacks. Richard Sherman is out for at least another game with a calf strain.
Ahkello Witherspoon, who started last week for Sherman, was ruled out before the game with a hamstring injury.
Then, Moseley was lost in the first half after sustaining a concussion. Moseley’s injury forced Dontae Johnson into the action.
Verrett originally signed with the 49ers last season but appeared in just one game before going on injured reserve with a knee injury.
He signed a one-year deal to return to the club in the offseason. The 49ers, obviously, saw something from Verrett that convinced them to keep him around. He showed why on Sunday.
Verrett entered the NFL in 2014 as a first-round pick of the Chargers. But in the next six years entering Sunday, he was healthy enough to see action in just 26 games with 22 starts.
Now, Verrett has clearly proved he can be a big-time contributor for the 49ers the rest of the way.
Aiyuk, another Deebo?
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel is expected back at practice this week after spending three games on injured reserve as he recovers from off-season foot surgery.
That was not Samuel on Sunday, but Aiyuk does a very convincing impression.
Shanahan had Aiyuk evaluated as one of his top-two wide receivers in the draft -- perhaps, just behind CeeDee Lamb. Shanahan liked Aiyuk’s versatility to line up in all different spots in the formation and run jet sweeps, too.
The 49ers traded up from No. 31 to select Aiyuk with the No. 25 overall pick. On the 49ers’ first offensive series, Aiyuk carried twice. He ended up with three rushing attempts for 31 yards, including a beautifully blocked 19-yard touchdown run to give the 49ers a 23-9 lead.
And after being held without a catch in the first half, Aiyuk sprung to life in the third quarter to set up his first NFL touchdown with three receptions for 39 yards.
Aiyuk finished the game with a team-best five receptions for 70 yards.