Those in green saw Mike White’s explosion coming
The Halloween season is often heralded by the ceremonial viewing of horror movies and the twists that accompany them.
Who saw John Kramer rising from the floor at the end of the original “Saw”? The mysterious murderer of “Psycho” turned out to be the timid Norman Bates rather than his sickly mother. Laurie Strode might be Michael Myers’ sister, depending on which “Halloween” continuity the viewer pledges to.
But, surely, Mike White ending the Cincinnati Bengals’ AFC supremacy has to be the most unexpected All Hallow’s Eve takedown.
As the sun rose on Sunday, White was merely a fifth-round NFL washout that failed to stick around as the Dallas Cowboys’ backup, a human sacrifice sent out by the hapless Jets to deal with the active holders of the AFC’s only playoff bye. To top it all off, Sunday marked White’s first professional start and the first time that he appeared in a starting lineup since his alma later Western Kentucky partook in the 2017 Cure Bowl against Georgia State.
It took three hours for White (37-of-45, 405 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) to flip the script and etch his name into both the Jets’ and the NFL’s record book.
White became the sixth Jets quarterback to tally at least 400 passing yards in a single game, joining Joe Namath (3x), Vinny Testaverde (2x), Ken O’Brien (2x), Richard Todd (2x), and Glenn Foley. Testaverde was the last New York passer to hit the mark, doing so in 2000 against the Ravens. White is the first Jet to earn 400 yards alongside three touchdown passes since Foley in a 1998 loss to the 49ers.
The latter two scores, caught by Ty Johnson and Tyler Kroft, accounted for the deciding points of the Jets’ 34-31 victory over the Bengals. White even topped it off by scoring on a “Philly Special”-esque two-point conversion after the Kroft touchdown, literally taking matters into his own hands through a reception from the arm of Jamison Crowder.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) October 31, 2021
As 11-point underdogs, the White-led victory was the Jets’ fifth win in franchise history when they were getting double digits from Vegas. White also became the first New York backup to guide the Jets to a win since Bryce Petty triumphed over San Francisco in place of Ryan Fitzpatrick back in December 2016.
In other words … business as usual for the modern Jets.
White’s breakout was of little surprise to his New York teammates and management. When asked if he believed if White, a relative NFL virgin, was capable of handling the extended duties in Wilson’s absence, Jets head coach Robert Saleh rhetorically asked “why not?”
“Sometimes from the outside looking in, the decisions that scouts and coaches make can seem crazy. We get to see these guys every day. We get to see them operate. We’ve been blessed to be around some of the great players in this league and Mike is fantastic,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “He’s poised. He was throwing it all throughout camp and throughout OTA’s that he deserves to be one of those guys. Obviously, he showed it today.”
White’s green teammates concurred. Even the MetLife Stadium faithful got in on the love, chanting White’s name as the clock counted down toward the Jets’ upset victory, one that saw them erase an 11-point deficit over the final seven minutes.
“He was going crazy. I see it every day from him, so I’m not surprised by what he just did. You all are, but I’m not at all. I think he played a really good game,” running back Michael Carter, he of 172 yards from scrimmage, said. “He played a great game today and he deserves it because he works so hard every day. I have a lot of love for Mike White.”
“It’s Mike f’ing White. He’s a savage, he’s a dog, he’s an animal,” Ty Johnson, earner of 86 yards and the aforementioned score, added. “I said it on Monday, and I’ll say it again. I’m going to keep saying it, he’s a dog, he’s an animal. Let’s keep it like that.”
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White performed well enough to convince Saleh to grant him the starting duties for the Jets’ next game, a Thursday night showdown against the Indianapolis Colts (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network). Such a promotion comes mere days after the Jets sent over a day three draft pick to Philadelphia in exchange for Super Bowl MVP and 2020 backup Joe Flacco, who was inactive for Sunday’s contest.
Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur immediately put the game in White’s hands, affording him seven passing opportunities on the Jets’ opening drive. That kicked off a streak of 10 consecutive completions to open the game, the longest such accumulation for a Jets quarterback this season.
The opening possession, a 10-play, 75-yard trek punctuated by Carter’s eight-yard scoring rush, marked the first time that the Jets (2-5) scored in the first quarter all season.
That was enough to convince Saleh that the Jets were in good hands.
“He came out comfortable and poised. He drove the ball right down the field and scored that touchdown,” Saleh recalled. “I was like, ‘Alright, let’s get this dude the ball and see what happens.’ I know we had some mishaps in the first half where we could have been even more explosive as it pertains to points, but to be down three at halftime despite three turnovers, to show the grit and grind that this group was fighting through. To be down 11 and come back, it’s a gritty group. It was awesome to see.”
White perhaps perfectly defined the Jets’ grittiness as the football gods tried everything they could to throw him off his game.
Cincinnati (5-3) built a two-possession lead in the first half thanks in part to three Jets turnovers, two of which were White interceptions (though Carter absolved White of the errors). The effort to trim the deficit before halftime was stifled by replay officials that determined that Keelan Cole didn’t have the control to make a spectacular one-handed catch at the end of the half.
White nonetheless allowed the Jets to go into the halftime break facing a manageable 17-14 deficit, making up for the supposed Cole injustice with an eight-yard scoring strike to a sliding Braxton Berrios two plays later.
But Braxton Berrios makes up for it! 🏈pic.twitter.com/3Cng4SOplh
— ComeOn! 🇨🇦 (@ComeOnOfficial) October 31, 2021
A brief injury forced White from the game as the Jets mounted a tying drive in the third quarter, as he was forced to visit the medical tent after he was the victim of a roughing the passer penalty charged to Cameron Sample. He would return after a brief Josh Johnson appearance, leading the Jets to a score on each of his next three drives upon returning.
This being the New York sports landscape, discussions of both the serious and facetious nature will likely ensue about White’s potential to be a long-term starter – even if it means usurping the touted Wilson.
Some euphoric Jets fans have jokingly compared the situation indirectly induced by the team in September 2001, when a Mo Lewis hit injured Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe and gave way to sixth-round pick Tom Brady.
Saleh quickly diffused any tension over the future of the quarterback situation by saying Wilson’s status is “day-to-day.” He’s nonetheless looking forward to what the rest of the White saga brings to a Jets team looking to make the most of a developmental campaign.
“What Mike does with his opportunity … he has the world in front of him. He has to take advantage,” Saleh said. “One thing I have learned about Jets fans is that they are extremely passionate. 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.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags