Winners and losers from ‘Thursday Night Football’ in Week 9

By Vincent Frank
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

They laid completely down against the cross-bay rival…

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In a game featuring two one-win teams on Thursday night, at least one of them decided to show up. For fans in Oakland, we’re sad to announce that it was not the Jon Gruden-led Raiders. Instead, they laid completely down against the cross-bay rival San Francisco 49ers.

When the clock struck zero at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the 49ers came out on top by the score of 34-3. Second-year quarterback Nick Mullens, making his NFL debut, awed onlookers by putting up three touchdown passes. San Francisco’s defense battered Derek Carr throughout the game to the tune of six sacks.

Here are the biggest winners and losers from San Francisco’s 31-point Thursday Night Football win over the Raiders.

 

Winner: Nick Mullens with emphatic NFL debut

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A vast majority of fans headed into Thursday night not having a single clue who this second-year quarterback from Southern Mississippi was. But at least for one game, he looked like Mr. Southern Mississippi himself, Brett Favre. Mullens opened the game by leading San Francisco on a 75-play scoring drive, culminating in this score to Pierre Garcon. Then, on his second drive, he tossed a four-yard score to Kendrick Bourne.

All said, Mullens completed 12-of-17 passes for 167 yards and two scores in the first half alone. He ended up throwing for 262 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions en route to leading San Francisco to a 34-3 win. Could there be a quarterback battle brewing in Santa Clara?

 

Loser: Raiders pass rush comes up empty

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Gruden is still looking for that pass rusher he’s missing. Taking on a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut, Gruden is dreaming of the days when he actually had a pass rusher to call his own. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther called blitz packages throughout the game, but they came up pretty darn empty. When all was said and done, Mullens was hit two times and sacked zero times in San Francisco’s 34-3 victory over Oakland.

It was a downright embarrassing display from a pass rush that has yet to show up all season. Through the first eight games of the season, Oakland has racked up fewer sacks (seven) than seven individual players. Thursday’s outing against a 49ers offensive line that allowed 31 sacks on the season coming in is the latest example of these struggles.

 

Winner: DeForest Buckner proves 49ers have talent

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Much like other young members of the 49ers, Buckner has flown under the radar because of the team’s lack of success. But make no mistake about it, Buckner is a future All-Pro. He played like that Thursday night against a bad Raiders team, racking up a first half sack and two quarterback hits in the game.

It’s this type of pressure Buckner creates from the interior of the defensive line that opens up the outside for edge rushers in Robert Saleh’s defense. For the first time all season, Buckner’s efforts didn’t go to waste. San Francisco sacked Derek Carr six times and put eight hits on the Raiders’ quarterback.

 

Loser: Raiders fans

Caption: Dec 24, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders raiderette cheerleaders pose during a NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Created:

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Even the objective person would conclude that this was a hard performance to watch from Jon Gruden’s squad. What could go wrong, did go wrong. From false starts at the worst possible times to defensive breakdowns throughout the game, this might have been the Raiders’ worst performance of the season.

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Gruden might not want to admit it, but Oakland is definitely in rebuild mode. Not only that, it is in the early stages of said rebuild. Trading Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper proved that. But it’s not going to get better any time soon. After less than a calendar year as the Raiders’ head coach, Gruden has turned this team into a true laughingstock.

 

Winner: Doug Martin impresses

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Martin is one Raiders player who showed he wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Despite team-wide struggles Thursday at Levi’s, Martin continued to play hard. With Marshawn Lynch likely out for the season, it’s good to see this veteran make the most of his opportunities.

All said, the former Pro Bowler tallied 69 yards on 12 touches in the 31-point loss. It will mean very little moving forward. Signed to a one-year deal, Martin doesn’t have a future in Oakland. But at the very least, he’s showing other teams that there might be something left in the tank.

 

Loser: Marquise Goodwin struggles against bad defense

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On a night in which multiple 49ers skill-position players performed extremely well for Kyle Shanahan’s squad, Goodwin came up pretty small against a bad Raiders defense. He caught just 1-of-4 targets for 11 yards from Nick Mullens in the win.

Extended this past offseason to be a true No. 1 receiver, Goodwin has been anything but that. Sure he’s made the big plays. But due to injury and inconsistency, Goodwin has caught three passes or fewer six times this season. That’s just not going to cut it.

 

Winner: Cassius Marsh with a primetime performance

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It might have come against a second-rate offensive line and two rookie tackles, but Marsh laid into Raiders quarterback Derek Carr big time Thursday night. Having entered Week 9 with one sack, he almost tripled that total in a dominating performance. The former Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots pass rusher put up three quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks on the evening.

Marsh was certainly helped by the performance of DeForest Buckner inside, but that doesn’t take away what he did against the Raiders. It will certainly be interesting to see how he develops after San Francisco handed the veteran a multi-year deal during the offseason.

 

Loser: Raiders offensive line

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Out of necessity more than anything else, the Raiders have been forced to go with two rookie offensive tackles in that of Brandon Parker and Kolton Miller. While the two held up in last week’s loss to Indianapolis, that was nowhere near the case during Thursday’s loss to the 49ers.

Prior to being taken out of the game early in the fourth quarter, Derek Carr was sacked six times and hit a total of eight times. This came against a San Francisco pass rush that had recorded just 16 sacks in eight games heading into Week 9. Ouch.

 

Winner: George Kittle is one of the NFL’s best tight ends

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There was little doubt heading into Week 9 that Kittle is already among the most-productive tight ends in the NFL. The second-year player from Iowa had put up 37 receptions for 584 yards through the first half of the season. Given San Francisco’s injuries on offense and its quarterback situation, this was quite remarkable.

Kittle then took that to an entirely new level against the Raiders, putting up four receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown on four targets. This included an awe-inspiring one-handed 71-yard catch in the third quarter. Now, through the first nine games of the season, Kittle is on pace for an NFL-high 1,230 yards from the tight end position. Not too shabby.

 

Loser: Reggie Nelson continues to embarrass himself

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t take this former Pro Bowler too long to show us why Jon Gruden is foolish for still playing him. San Francisco’s first drive of the game culminated in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Nick Mullens to Pierce Garcon, the receiver’s first score as a member of the 49ers.

The culprit here was a player in Nelson who found himself in no man’s land attempting to do something. We’re not exactly sure what that something was. But Nelson was 10 yards from Garcon when the receiver caught the ball. That’s not a good thing. Defenders should be near an offensive player on the football field. Nelson wasn’t. And the results were bad for Oakland.