More than Mullens: 49ers QBs have had turnover issues throughout Shanahan era

Since 2017, 49ers quarterbacks have thrown 65 interceptions. In comparison, New Orleans’ Drew Brees has thrown 20.
Since 2018, 49ers quarterbacks have thrown 50 interceptions. In comparison, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has thrown 10.
Since 2019, 49ers quarterbacks have thrown 30 interceptions. In comparison, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes has thrown 10.
OK, OK, so not everybody can have a Hall of Fame-caliber sharp shooter. Nor does that assure multiple Super Bowl rings, though the above mentioned trio does have one apiece.
It’s just that the 49ers’ serial penchant for yielding interceptions, not to mention strip-sack fumbles, has helped drive them out of the playoffs in three of four seasons under coach Kyle Shanahan.
Mass injuries, of course, have been a dubious accomplice in those losing seasons in 2017 (6-10), ’18 (4-12) and this season (5-9, with two games to go).
There’s plenty of scorn to go around, about the supporting cast of linemen and receivers, about various plays calls or overachieving defenses or bad luck.
Shabby, untrustworthy quarterback play has been an unmistakable downfall, even in an offensive scheme that relies most on run plays. When it’s time to pass, failed comebacks ensue.
Nick Mullens’ turnover-prone ways this season, in relief of Jimmy Garoppolo’s turnover-prone ways, finally could prompt Shanahan to start C.J. Beathard in the 49ers’ final two games. Beathard, by the way, committed 16 turnovers while going 1-9 as a starter in 2017 and ’18.
To close their 26th straight season without a Lombardi Trophy win, the 49ers face the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday and the Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 3. Both games take place at the Cardinals’ State Farm Stadium, where the 49ers sought refuge this month from Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 restrictions banning contact sports.
Mullens’ elbow injury late in Sunday’s 41-33 loss at Dallas sent Beathard into the game. Two scoring drives ensued, albeit a field goal and a last-play Hail Mary touchdown.
It’s too late in the season to depict anything as a quarterback controversy.
Because the 49ers were eliminated Sunday from defending their NFC crown, a Garoppolo return in the season’s final two games would be shocking. He hasn’t practiced since his Nov. 1 ankle sprain, which came six weeks after an initial injury to that right ankle.
Garoppolo’s only full season as the 49ers quarterback saw him make every start in last season’s run to the Super Bowl. Along the way, he had 13 interceptions and five lost fumbles (with 27 touchdown passes) in the regular season, prior to the run-obsessed playoff wins and their Super Bowl collapse.
In 30 starts with the 49ers, Garoppolo has 26 interceptions and five lost fumbles. But his 22-8 record is admirable. That could be enticing enough for a 2021 return if the 49ers can stomach his $24 million salary.
Mullens’ 12 interceptions and four lost fumbles this season have doomed him and dwarfed his 12 touchdown passes. He is 2-6 as a starter. He had three turnovers in Sunday’s loss at Dallas, after having two returned for touchdowns the preceding loss to Washington.
“Nick’s done some good things, but when you turn the ball over that much it’s gonna be tough to be given opportunities,” Shanahan said after Mullens’ sixth straight start.
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Mullens has taken accountability along the way, never publicly calling into question receivers’ guilt or that of overpowered linemen. Instead, he acknowledged his accuracy must be better.
“Our defense is playing great, our special teams is playing great. We’re moving the ball and scoring points,” he said. “But we’re not protecting the football.”
He’s not this year, nor have any 49ers quarterbacks since 2017.
If the 49ers are on the hunt for a new quarterback in the coming months, accuracy and ball security should be checkmarks on scouting reports.
If the 49ers are onboard with another round of Garoppoo-Mullens-Beathard, well, good luck following the bouncing ball.
By the way, the New York Jets’ quarterbacks also have thrown 50 touchdown passes since 2017. That’s not a trait you want to share nor a team you want to mirror.

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