49ers

Nick Mullens learns lesson of doing too much in 49ers' loss to Bears

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AP

Nick Mullens learns lesson of doing too much in 49ers' loss to Bears

Rest assured that the play that Nick Mullens didn’t make at the end of Sunday’s 14-9 loss to the Chicago Bears will linger with him only forever, because it started eating at him immediately.
 
As it should have, because that’s how disappointment is supposed to work.
 
“I started thinking about it the second I threw it,” the 49ers quarterback who has been playing this season with the casino’s money said after the one play that will eat him all winter, spring and summer -- the time he threw a low-percentage deep pass instead of running for a mortal-lock/time-saving first down in the game’s waning seconds.

“I’ve been thinking about it all the time I’ve been here (behind the press room podium); what I did, what I should have done, what could have happened . . .”
 
In fairness, though, there is no guarantee that he would have converted that fourth-and-four at the Bears’ 45 into a game-winning touchdown. He had the first down and a clear field to the sideline so he could have run out of bounds at, say, the 35 with 1:05 to play, a new set of downs and a 50-50 shot at genuine heroism against one of the game’s best defenses.
 
The drive could have, given that it was the Bears, been stopped in field goal range, which wouldn’t have helped the 49ers at all.
 
But it was Mullens’ choice that he is kicking himself for. It was the wrong choice, the rookie’s choice, a teachable moment of a hard lesson.
 
And it should sting, not because it feels good to rub his nose in it, but because it is how close he is to being the impact quarterback nobody believed he could be when he came out of Southern Mississippi. This is no longer a lark, or something to do before reality sets in – Nick Mullens can play in this league, and there will be opportunities for him to atone for this stain on his resume.
 
Not erase it, mind you. He will hold it to his chest and let it imprint itself upon him so he can better revel in his next game situation success. That’s how the system works for athletes. Today’s colossal gaffe can eat you, or you can eat, and Mullens is eating it.
 
His performance against this elite Chicago defense was otherwise solid and winnable. True, it was narrow-margin football because the 49ers didn’t have the ball for very much of the second half, but they only ran the ball three times in that half (against 20 passes) and still failed to breach the Chicago 20-yard line. And in that, the only play they got off was Mullens’ pass over the middle that ran slightly ahead of Marquise Goodwin and was intercepted by linebacker Danny Trevathan.
 
And yet, Mullens wasn’t deducted points by either head coach Kyle Shanahan or any of his teammates, mostly because nobody knew more about the devastating nature of the play than Mullens himself. Anything more would have been piling on, which incidentally is what had happened minutes earlier when Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was clocked by another eager rookie, Marcell Harris, after he slid for what would have been a first down.

[RELATED: Mullens laments 'stupid turnover,' missed opportunities]
 
Therein lies the tale of the day. One quarterback ran, one did not. The one that will be remembered will be the one who didn’t, but Mullens can make it worth his while next week in Los Angeles, next year in training camp here, or in his next port of call.
 
You see, he’s earned his way into quarterback discussions not only here but with other teams in the NFL, and he will have plenty of opportunities to apply what he learned face-first Sunday. He forgot the moment but he has nearly guaranteed himself many more.

Mistakes are meant to be absorbed and made educative, and Nick Mullens has been given his. Now we’ll see if he can correctly choose how to make it work to his benefit.

Why Kyle Juszczyk gives George Kittle edge for 49ers' play of the year

Why Kyle Juszczyk gives George Kittle edge for 49ers' play of the year

The 49ers have made it to the Super Bowl, but there were several stops along the way when that outcome didn't appear as likely. Yes, San Francisco was the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC, but only by the slimmest of margins.

Literally inches, you might recall.

Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw sealed the top seed for the 49ers -- and a first-round bye -- with his clutch fourth-down stop on the goal line in the final seconds of San Francisco's Week 17 win over the Seattle Seahawks. It undoubtedly will go down as one of the most memorable plays in franchise history, but depending on who you ask, it wasn't even the biggest play of the current season.

There are a few additional contenders, but the most obvious would be tight end George Kittle's 39-yard catch-and-run on fourth-and-2 on the 49ers' game-winning drive to beat the Saints in Week 14. 

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was on the sideline for both plays, and recently offered his opinion as to which is the 49ers' play of the year. 

"Two legendary plays ... season-defining plays, there," Juszczyk told 95.7 The Game's "Jo, Lo & Dibs" on Tuesday morning. "I'm an offensive guy, though, and I can't lie, when you started talking about the biggest play of the season, the first play that jumped to my mind was George's play in New Orleans, so I'm gonna give that one to George with Dre as a close second. Just two guys putting the team on their back and just willing the team to a win. So, both absolutely phenomenal plays."

[RELATED: Why 'defense wins championships' adage applies to 49ers]

Super Bowl LIV will mark the seventh straight Super Bowl featuring two top-two seeds, further indicating the benefit of a first-round bye. Both Kittle and Greenlaw's clutch plays were absolutely essential to the 49ers achieving that high seed, so really, it's impossible to say which was the play of the year, because San Francisco's season looks a whole lot different without both of them.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).

Teams with defenses like 49ers' have great track record in Super Bowl

Teams with defenses like 49ers' have great track record in Super Bowl

The "Defense wins championships" adage didn't arise out of nowhere. It's a tried and true method tested over multiple decades of different eras of the NFL, and one that bodes well for the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV against the Kanas City Chiefs.

San Francisco finished the regular season with the No. 2-ranked defense in the league behind only the New England Patriots. The Niners have been even better on that side of the ball through two playoff contests, where they've held their opponents to nearly 30 fewer total yards per game. That defense will face arguably its toughest test all year long in Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but based on history, there is reason to believe it will hold up.

As ESPN's Dan Orlovsky discussed on Tuesday morning's episode of "Get Up", teams with a top-two ranked defense have a very good track record in the Super Bowl. In fact, it has usually taken a Hall of Fame quarterback to overcome that defense.

Kansas City ranked fifth in the NFL during the regular season with an average of 28.2 points per game, but it's worth noting that Mahomes missed two games due to injury, and likely wasn't at full strength for several other contests. He appears to be fully healthy now, as the Chiefs have exploded for an average of 43.0 points per game in the playoffs. For comparison, the 49ers rank second among all postseason teams with an average of 32.0 points per game. While those previous top-two ranked defenses have given up an average of 18 points per game in the Super Bowl, it's unlikely San Francisco will be able to limit the Chiefs' high-flying offense to that degree, but even if they can get close, that might be enough to prove victorious.

[RELATED: 49ers, Chiefs show importance of bye weeks in NFL playoffs]

As great as the historical track record is for the 49ers, that Hall of Fame QB exception to the rule likely will keep the team from puffing its chest too much before the Big Game. Mahomes is only in his third professional season and second as a starting quarterback, but it sure looks like he'll eventually wind up in Canton.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).