A fairly meaningless game on Monday Night Football ended in dramatic fashion last night, with 49ers rookie quarterback Nick Mullens coming up just short of leading San Francisco to a last-second comeback against the New York Giants, who won the game 27-23.
But once again, it was rookie ESPN analyst Jason Witten who dominated much of the discussion about the game among sports writers and pundits on social media.
Witten was mocked Monday night over comments he made about Mullens, the undrafted free agent currently starting at quarterback for the 49ers in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppolo. During the first quarter, Monday Night Football announcer Joe Tessitore revealed that Mullens, starting opposite New York Giants veteran quarterback Eli Manning, actually attended Manning's passing academy in 2016 during his senior year at Southern Miss.
"Some dreams never come true, but if you keep dreaming, you never know," Witten awkwardly responded.
Witten had a couple more minor missteps during the broadcast. During a fourth-quarter replay Witten said the 49ers had attempted play action when they obviously hadn't. He also suggested the 49ers could win out and sneak into the playoffs despite their 2-7 record (which he incorrectly said was 2-17) and was mocked for inadvertently comparing Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley to O.J. Simpson.
This isn't the first time Witten has been mocked on social media over his growing pains as an NFL analyst. Back in September, he was called out for making the odd claim that the NFL had become too "left wing" when it comes to protecting quarterbacks, a statement ESPN had to clarify "had nothing to do with politics."
"It was a mix-up in words," Witten explained to the Washington Post's Ben Strauss. "I was saying the pendulum was moving to the left and I guess the nerves of being a rookie — I mean trust me I would never get into rushing the passer and politics."
To his credit, Witten took that flub in stride following the game.
"I'll continue to say it but I don't expect ESPN to ever listen: Louis Riddick should be Monday Night Football's top analyst," The Athletic's Richard Deitsch wrote on Twitter last month. Riddick, who was passed over for the Monday Night Football analyst role that Witten landed, has received high marks in his role as the broadcast's on-site analyst during halftime and post-game.
Despite Witten's hiccups, the 11-time Pro Bowler has improved over his first 10 games as a broadcaster, and made several interesting observations during Monday's broadcast. ESPN executives certainly didn't do Witten any favors by placing him in such high-profile role with no experience (and on a rookie crew to boot), but they have said they are invested in the former Cowboys tight end long-term.
"I'm not going to be perfect but I think, over time, if you listen, you win them over by saying, 'Man, the guy is sharing a lot of football with us that we didn't necessarily know,' " Witten told ESPN's Todd Archer ahead of the New England Patriots win over the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 29 . "I believe in myself. I believe I'll be good at it. You just try to eliminate the mistakes and until you do there's always going to be a criticism."