SANTA CLARA – The 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks 26-23 in overtime Sunday afternoon. Here are the 49ers’ grades:
NICK MULLENS: A. He took a team that lost not once but twice to the Arizona Cardinals this season and led it to victory over the Seattle Seahawks, who were one win away from the clinching a playoff spot. This is the 49ers’ biggest win since Jim Harbaugh was the head coach. Mullens’ performance against the Seahawks was more impressive than any performance of Jimmy Garoppolo’s career. Mullens completed 20 of 29 passes, and three were dropped. The Seahawks pummeled him during the fourth quarter and he didn’t back down. He threw for 275 yards. Only four quarterback threw for more this week. Mullens might just be better than Garoppolo. We don’t know yet. But we do Mullens is a starting NFL quarterback, and a good one. The 49ers are lucky to have him. They can get rid of C.J. Beathard now.
RUNNING BACKS: D. Matt Breida rushed for just 2.9 yards per carry, and Jeff Wilson fumbled for the third time in the past three games. But, the 49ers didn’t bench him, and he sealed the victory with three tough runs during overtime.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C. Dante Pettis had a good game – he caught five passes for 83 yards. Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor both had awful games. Each dropped a crucial pass during the fourth quarter. Each is expendable.
TIGHT ENDS: A. George Kittle caught just three of eight targets – the Seahawks focused on shutting him down. But, they forgot about the other 49ers tight end, Garrett Celek, who came into the game with more penalties (five) than catches (three) this season. Celek made a wide-open 41-yard touchdown catch.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: F. The 49ers struggled run blocking and pass blocking for the second week in a row. Left guard Laken Tomlinson and center Weston Richburg were particularly horrendous. Even when they worked together, they had a tough time blocking Seahawks nose tackle Jarran Reed. The 49ers should consider replacing both Tomlinson and Richburg during the offseason.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: A. They held their own defending runs between the tackles, and DeForest Buckner sacked Russell Wilson twice. Buckner has 11 sacks with two games to go. He is the second-best defensive tackle in the NFL after Aaron Donald.
LINEBACKERS: A. Mark Nzeocha recorded a sack, and Fred Warner and Elijah Lee combined to make 19 tackles. Warner and Lee are a promising inside-linebacker duo for the future.
SAFETIES: D. Starting free safety Antone Exum Jr. missed a tackle and gave up a touchdown catch to Doug Baldwin. And starting strong safety Marcell Harris failed to set the edge a few times and gave up some long runs.
CORNERBACKS: C. Ahkello Witherspoon injured his knee during the first quarter and didn’t return. Rookie third-round-pick Tarvarius Moore replaced Witherspoon and gave up a five-yard touchdown catch to Baldwin. Richard Sherman did not give up any catches. The Seahawks never targeted him.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus. Robbie Gould made all four of his field goals, and Richie James returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. I downgrade this group slightly because the punt coverage unit failed to down any of Bradley Pinion’s punts inside the 10-yard line. The 49ers stood and watched as the ball bounced into the end zone. They’ve done that a bunch this season. Bad habit.
COACHES: A. Kyle Shanahan officially is off the hot seat. He did everything right against the Seahawks. He established six receivers other than George Kittle during the first half, designed a brilliant, long touchdown pass to Celek and closed out the victory with power run plays during overtime. Shanahan didn’t improve in the red zone, and may never will – the 49ers were 0-2 in that area of the field. But, he won. And this is how he wins. He creates long touchdowns early, then hangs on late. His formula would have worked much better this season had Mullens been the quarterback all along. The 49ers probably would be no worse than 7-7 right now. Bodes well for 2019.