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Mike White: The hero the NY Jets needed on the field and in the ether

Mike White, Robert Saleh
Mike White, Robert Saleh, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Mike White delivered much more than a victory for the New York Jets on Halloween

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—Just like that, it happened.

Something happened, at the very least. A something that can’t exactly be pinpointed or sufficiently explained … as of yet. A rare occurrence that needs more than a few hours of funky digestion, forcing even the wisest of football pundits to grasp at the flimsiest of straws.

Who did what?

Perhaps only the MetLife Stadium crowd could best describe what transpired in the New York Jets‘ shocking 34-31 victory over the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals on Halloween.

Mike White, Mike White, Mike White … ”

That’s right; Mike White, a name that sounds as fictional and nondescript as Matt Black, owned the NFL on Oct. 31, 2021.

Not even the man of the hour could believe it.

“At first, I had to, like kind of, listen again; I was like, ‘Are they chanting my name?'” White said following his first-ever NFL start.

Yes, Mike, they surely were.

White, 26, put on a dazzling display in his first starting crack as a big-boy quarterback of an NFL organization. His 405 yards and three touchdowns (to two interceptions) on 37 of 45 passing dropped jaws from Florham Park, NJ to his hometown of Pembroke Pines, FL.

Nobody saw this coming—not even those who witnessed his excellent camp in August 2020.

White played well from the outset, helped along by Mike LaFleur’s unusually appropriate early script.

After Robert Saleh elected to receive to commence things, LaFleur’s early game plan focused on forcing the aggressive Bengals defense back.

“I know a lot of the early plays went underneath, but those were designed shots,” Saleh said after the game. “Give credit to Cincinnati; they took away the shots early. Mike LaFleur wanted to be aggressive with the entire offense today.”

While it’s true that LaFleur guessed correctly on the first drive—something that hasn’t happened much this season (if at all)—the story of the game wasn’t his newfound play-calling improvement. Don’t even think about labeling “LaFleur in the booth” as the most important piece to the puzzle, although it certainly matters and is something Saleh admitted will continue moving forward.

This traditionally scary day belongs to the quarterback.

The Western Kentucky product, originally drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft, represented the difference. His decisiveness, poise and anticipation delivered a much-needed shot in the arm to the NFL’s worst statistical offense.

“Mike White was really good at just taking what the defense gave (him),” Saleh added. “The defense gave space underneath and he gave it to his playmakers, and they went and made plays.”

Perhaps most importantly, White did so from the start.

“He came out comfortable and poised,” Saleh said of his quarterback. “He drove the ball right down the field and scored that touchdown. I was like, ‘Alright, let’s get this dude the ball and see what happens.’”

In complete contrast to Zach Wilson’s home run and out-of-structure attitude, White allowed the game to come to him. For instance, a running back, Michael Carter, finished the game as the Jets leading receiver (a team-high nine receptions for 95 yards).

It was this “take what the defense allows” attitude that also led to Ty Johnson’s big fourth-quarter score that put the game within reach late in regulation.

Ten different Jets caught a ball. Four Jets weapons hauled in five or more balls: Jamison Crowder with eight, Elijah Moore with six, and Ty Johnson with five, to go along with Carter’s nine.

White even overcame adversity. After Keelan Cole’s near-greatest catch in NFL history was overturned, the Florida native rebounded in anticipatory fashion.

Facing a third-and-6 situation with no timeouts and under 20 seconds to go in the first half, White found Braxton Berrios for an eight-yard touchdown.

Not only did the quarterback have to remain poised in the face of the Bengals’ six-man rush (perhaps a five-man rush with a green dog), but he also had to anticipate the route in an extraordinary fashion.

The Berrios play exemplifies an under-the-radar yet unreal professional throw—something that shouldn’t come so easily to somebody making his first NFL start.

Of course, a performance such as this in a losing effort would still turn heads, but it wouldn’t flip a rough-looking script in need of a major overhaul.

The Jets entered this one just seven days off one of the franchise’s most embarrassing defeats ever, a 54-13 shellacking at the hands of Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots—after a bye. So, sure, the victory White delivered is nice, but much more is at play here.

If it continues, Mike White represents exactly what Joe Douglas and this new regime seek: an unexpected reward thanks to a ridiculously stubborn process looking to net the most desirable results.

Unexpected individuals sprout up in nearly every instance an NFL organization flips the football program script to completion.

Of course, the Patriots’ franchise-defining person that is Tom Brady did so in the most shocking manner two decades ago—courtesy of a Mo Lewis hit on Drew Bledsoe. (And no, I don’t think anybody’s quite yet ready for the “Matt Judon paved the way for Mike White” headlines.)

White’s subtle yet amazingly sufficient and legitimate performance in his first shot supports the Douglas process—at least on this day. It’s at least more than enough to inject life into the previously rotten ether that disallowed even the most optimistic fan to dream big.

The positive development is well worth any semblance of a quarterback controversy—something that’ll sure come the Jets’ way if White duplicates this effort in Indianapolis against the Colts in four days.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact that Saleh didn’t shy away from competition at the position following the win.

“We’ll go day-to-day, but anything is possible, right?” Saleh said about a potential quarterback controversy. “Anything is possible.”

Remember, within the confines of a Douglas and Saleh-led program, competition is where superheroes are made and average humans fall in line.

“It goes back to the theory of, the difference between Player A and Player Z is an opportunity and reps. That’s what this league is. That’s professional sports. They come out of nowhere when someone gets an opportunity. What Mike does with his opportunity … he has the world in front of him. He has to take advantage.”

White sure did take advantage, even doing so during the time of play when the fans award the clutch chips to players.

After White found Tyler Kroft for what turned out to be the game-winning score, he put a bow on a terrifyingly-good performance with a reception worth two points.

Quarterback controversy? The No. 2 overall pick having to deal with even more adversity? Worries surrounding big-time decisions at the most important position in all of sport?

Who cares? At least who cares right now?

On this day, the Jets flipped the script. On this particular Halloween, not one fan could wear the infamous brown paper bag that reads, “Just End The Season.” On this specific Sunday, winners were crowned and superheroes showed face.

“One thing I have learned about Jets fans is that they are extremely passionate,” Saleh said. “If you’re winning, you’re a winner and if you’re losing, you’re a loser. Mike put out a winning performance and the crowd let him know it. I think it’s cool.”

On this football day, Jets fans love Robert Saleh, the winner.

On this NFL day, Mike White is simply the New York Jets fans’ newly-crowned superhero having the time of his life (no Halloween costume required).

“It was fun. It was a lot of fun. Anytime you get to play football it’s fun,” White said. “That’s what we all grew up doing and that’s what we all came to this level to do, so I embrace it, but I think I personally did a good job of not making it more than it is.”

What happened on Halloween represented good clean New York Jets fun that did much more than alter an on-the-field funk. It provided hope to a franchise that needed somebody to save the day.

If it happens again in Indianapolis, a frightening yet positive quarterback controversy is sure to legitimately commence.

Oh, how scary and exciting that may be for an organization that is actively seeking heroes who are forced to scratch and claw their way to the top.

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2 years ago

Truly what a game by Mike White! I don’t think anyone (myself included) gave him much of a chance. Most were just looking for competitive and showing some semblance of an offense. He played amazing and there’s no doubting that! Big congrats to him!

Still a long road ahead and I’m almost certain teams will make necessary adjustments to his playing style but if he can sustain this, that wouldn’t be the worst thing either.

2 years ago
Reply to  MasterWu77

I gave him no chance. A friend sent me a message early in the morning saying he thought White would play well. My response was, I see you have started drinking early. Good for him, and glad to have some fun on a Sunday.

2 years ago

Poise , leadership, great game manager. Tuesday, trade deadline, Crowder’s price just went up. Would you trade Mike White to the Saints for a Second and a Fourth ?

2 years ago
Reply to  JetOrange

For a second AND a fourth? In a heartbeat, and let Flacco take over for the rest of the year.

2 years ago
Reply to  DapperJet

Fascinating that last week that Mike White was a bum, and everyone was clamoring for a Veteran QB, today , White is a hero and a prized asset, what a difference a week can make. Chose second and a fourth because that was the primary compensation for Darnold. Of course this trade is nuts . But in the era of 25- 40 million dollar, cheap QBs are valuable assets, very glad that next year he is a restricted FA

2 years ago

Yep! What a game he had! Honestly it wouldn’t surprise me if he just finished out the season. Then next yr we can either talk about a real qb competition or we get another draft pick or player for a “qb” ..for now, this win was Sweeeet.

2 years ago
Reply to  DapperJet

Good news Mike White a RESTRICTED Free Agent in 2022. Jets got a ton of criticism for having MW as their backup Qb. Team loves this guy, a grinder. Jets a horrible short yardage team , White two great , pivotal, Qb sneaks, second effort made the difference. It’s a start for short yardage