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It doesn’t matter how injured you are if the teams you face do not know how to play football. For the past two weeks, the almost unbelievably injured 49ers have trudged through two games at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey with simultaneous difficulties and ease.
Sunday saw a way-too-easy second half result in a 36-9 victory over the Giants. San Francisco might be the only team to win two games at MetLife this season.
Jordan Reed (knee, ankle) and Emmanuel Moseley (concussion) were injured in the first half, but, it didn’t matter because, again, the 49ers played the Giants. Ross Dwelley and Dontae Johnson filled in admirably and against another inept host team in The Meadowlands. Luckily for the 49ers, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett declined to challenge Johnson or Jason Verrett deep in a Coryell offense which supposedly prioritizes the deep ball.
Both affairs featured two young teams with two young, turnover-prone quarterbacks in Sam Darnold and Daniel Jones (one interception, one turned over fumble), and two head coaches, who, at the very least, have yet to prove their NFL credentials are legitimate. Sunday was a smothering performance, defined by overwhelming possession by San Francisco and key conversions leaving the Giants reeling.
The only difference on Sunday was that Nick Mullens started and Jones, unlike Darnold, was able to exploit the 49ers in the same way Kyler Murray did in the season opener: with scrambles and designed quarterback runs. Except, that only took the Giants so far, which is to say, it took them nowhere.
Mullens struggled mainly with handoff exchanges, both in handling them and their efficiency, but those struggles were limited mainly to the opening quarter. Ben Garland seemed to struggle at accurately snapping the ball, as did long snapper Kyle Nelson, who had at least four woeful snaps on field goal and extra point attempts. After his third-straight low snap, Nelson was visibly distraught on the sideline. On the final extra point attempt, swing tackle Justin Skule replaced him.
Yet, when playing the Giants, a wasted field goal isn’t exactly a death-knell; nor are some shaky exchanges between Mullens and the running backs. Far, far from it.
As the game progressed, Mullens began to resemble a slightly more famous Southern Mississippi alum, named Brett Favre. As his comfort level increased, he started slinging the ball with discernible confidence. He connected on at least a pair of passes with rookie Brandon Aiyuk with pressure in his face.
Aiyuk, by the way, was stellar and exemplified all the reasons why he was drafted 25th overall. He strolled into the end zone untouched for his first career touchdown, a 19-yard carry. When Reed went down, he immediately became Mullens’ premier target and did not disappoint, making every catch within the radius of his very long arms. He finished with five receptions for 70 yards and three rushes for 31 yards and one touchdown.
Mullens, who was 14-of-24 for 187 yards in the first half, with a pair of sacks, was a wildly improved player in the second half. He had a single incompletion in the second half, finishing 25-of-36 for 343 yards and a touchdown to who else but Jeff Wilson Jr.
Wilson Jr., by the way, did what he does best: score touchdowns. In theory, he’d have made a case to play over Tevin Coleman when Coleman returns off injured reserve, but Shanahan’s infatuation with Coleman might muddy that. Wilson Jr., who had five carries for four yards in the first half, finished with 12 carries for 15 yards and 1 touchdown, in addition to three receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown.
He played in heavy relief for Jerick McKinnon, who had such a dominant third quarter that he didn’t need to play in the fourth quarter. McKinnon had 14 carries for 38 yards and a rushing touchdown, his third touchdown in as many games. He remained one of the team’s reliable receiving threats with a triplet of catches for 39 yards.
That’s all without mentioning the pure suffocation the 49ers’ defense caused the Giants. The new front, featuring Ziggy Ansah and Dion Jordan, remained stellar. Jones was limited to 17-of-32 with 174 yards without Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas and mostly Emmanuel Moseley on the field.
Their run game was nonexistent. Jones’ 49 scramble yards composed the bulk of the 66 total rush yards the Giants accrued. Their running backs combined for 17 total yards with a 1.7-yard-per-carry average.
Despite the injuries, two of the NFL’s worst teams provided the 49ers as close to free wins as exist in this league.