Sticking with Zach Wilson was always the way to go
The worst thing one can say to a New York Jets fan is “act like you’ve been there before,” because many Gang Green supporters have not, in fact, been “there” before.
This time two weeks ago, the football world, particularly the green territories, was abuzz about Mike White. A 2018 fifth-round pick from Dallas with a bottle of Gatorade’s worth of NFL regular season experience, White made Myers the second-most popular Michael of Halloween through an upset win over a Cincinnati Bengals team that entered the holiday as the owners of the only bye on the AFC playoff bracket.
A literally Hall of Fame-worthy performance created the sweetest Halloween treat for Jets fans: hope.
If the optimism was shaken during last week’s loss in Indianapolis, it was thoroughly stampeded upon by the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. White threw four interceptions that yielded as many points as he and the Jets’ offense could muster.
Levi Wallace with just a text book defense and break on the Mike White pass gets the interception. His second of the year pic.twitter.com/v4AGNTcE0U
— Bama NFL (@TheBamaNFL) November 15, 2021
Buffalo won 45-17, a score made only somewhat respectable through two garbage times tallies, one of which came from the arm of Joe Flacco when the outnumbered green contingent of MetLife Stadium had already fled the parking lot. White was spared from the rest of the game due to a late injury despite being cleared to return.
Sunday marked White’s third start in place of fallen franchise man Zach Wilson, who had to leave a previous one-sided loss, Oct. 24’s debacle in New England, with a sprained PCL injury. Originally granted a timeline of 2-4 weeks of recovery, it’s very possible that Wilson returns for next Sunday’s cursed divisional matchup with the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Partly brutalized by horrid defensive efforts, the Jets (2-7) are once again erased from the NFL playoff picture before Thanksgiving. Even the extra wild card probably won’t afford them a chance to appear in the “In The Hunt” column on the NFL playoff charts that broadcasters use as a gridiron Advent calendar of sorts.
Instead, yet another macabre holiday gift awaits in the form of eight consequence-free contests that can be used as research and development for the future. Some players, like Michael Carter (both the rusher and the defender) and Elijah Moore, are already making the most of their time.
So cast any idea of tanking aside: even the final stages of the wretched Adam Gase era managed to do that. The Jets are going to want to compete and gain any form of momentum over the final stages of the season.
Ideally, Wilson would be healthy enough for consequence-free football that would do wonders for his confidence. But after working well with developing talents in a similar situation last season, it’s possible the Jets could turn to Flacco until Wilson is at 100 percent.
Thus would end the Mike White era, one of the wildest – and frankly, silliest – sagas in recent NFL memory.
Thanks to the rise of White, the Jets were viral darlings for the right reasons this time. Their quarterback was in the news not because he ran into his lineman’s backside, became the victim of a teammate’s sucker punch, or saw spirits on the sidelines.
Instead, White was making headlines through legitimate and, more importantly, victorious football purposes. His origin story – coming to New York as a 2018 draft pick from Dallas with no regular season passes to his name – made things even sweeter.
White’s legend didn’t have much time to grow. True to Jets’ fashion, their fans had only four days to revel in Mike-mania.
The Fox Sports/NFL Network broadcast was happy to make up for lost time. If one were to play a drinking game involving a shot every time White was mentioned by name during the Jets’ Thursday night tilt in Indianapolis, they’d be passed out by the first commercial break.
The hype only subsided when White was forced to leave the game with a forearm injury that relegated him to the sidelines while the Jets were the victims of a Colts stampede. Even then, White managed to go out on a high note, finding Moore for the latter’s first NFL touchdown, one that created a temporary tie.
MIKE WHITE TO ELIJAH MOORE FOR THE TD
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) November 5, 2021
Jets fans reveled in a rare feeling: offensive security and stability. Wilson, it appeared, wasn’t ready to provide that, as only 11 percent of his offensive possessions (7-for-59) ended in a touchdown. Of those seven scores, four came with the Jets down by multiple possessions.
White was able to match that touchdown tally in a mere 21 drives.
Some viewers, both facetiously and completely straight-laced, claimed that White could become the Jets’ very own Tom Brady with Patriots defender Matthew Judon (who laid down the hit that knocked Wilson out of the game) playing the role of Mo Lewis.
Perhaps it was anything to take the focus off of a horrid defensive performance (one that let up 532 yards). The ten-day layover bestowed to Thursday night combatants – and thus creating a longer need for content – likely didn’t help matters. White’s swagger-laden claim that he “should’ve been a first overall pick” sent the fanbase into a frenzy.
Whatever the reason, amateur and professional observers alike began to at least ponder a New York future that centered around White and not Wilson. Even head coach Robert Saleh wasn’t willing to commit to returning Wilson’s reigns once he recovered from the injury that spawned this saga in the first place.
“(General manager Joe Douglas) and myself are committed to doing whatever is best for this entire organization and that includes every player in this organization,” Saleh said on Wednesday, per notes from the Jets.
“Mike has proven throughout OTAs and training camp that he’s capable. Did a wonderful job during the game, did a wonderful job in the first quarter of that Indianapolis game. So, he’s putting on good tape, so there’s also that obligation. If he’s playing well and he’s doing the things that he needs to do, to give him that opportunity to continue on that.”
When pressed for a firm decision when it came to a healthy Wilson, Saleh only said “I’m staying day-to-day on it. I’ll just cut it at that.”
The idea of immediately committing to White was probably ridiculous from the get-go. If he was a fellow rookie, that’d probably be one thing. But one game was meant to negate three years of inactivity in the systems of Dallas and New York? Instant gratification is one thing. This was pushing things way too far.
Yes, proverbial leashes on franchise quarterbacks are shorter than ever – look no further than Josh Rosen’s cursed Arizona endeavor – but the Jets had far too much invested into Wilson to realistically consider the possibility of turning things over to a quarterback who is undeniably still a one-game wonder.
For as star-crossed as the Jets’ franchise has been, they haven’t been staples at the very top of the draft board. The selection of Wilson at second overall was their highest pick since they made Keyshawn Johnson No. 1 in 1996.
It’s easy to claim in hindsight after Sunday’s debacle, but if White were to become a rags-to-riches franchise quarterback in this league, it wasn’t going to be in New York. The metropolitan endgame for White was going to be the idea that he could prove himself as a capable backup in the NFL. For all intents and purposes, he probably succeeded there.
Come this offseason, teams in need of a veteran arm or even seeking to create camp competition for a rookie will probably inquire about the services of White, a free-agent-to-be.
For now, however, the White saga is yet another comedy of errors the Jets can’t escape from.
If one were scripting a satirical gridiron feature, the Jets’ current situation – one where fans chanting White’s name would chant for him to be replaced by the 36-year-old Flacco two weeks later – would be rejected by the major studios for lacking subtlety.
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Time will tell what lies ahead for the Jets, the only certainty being the lack of a playoff berth for the 11th year in a row. The best thing they can do in the immediate future is get through these eight games as quietly as possible, finding vital pieces and cogs for the future.
There are ample opportunities to earn wins: two Miami matchups lie ahead, as do contests against equally doomed squads from Houston and Jacksonville. They can also shift the playoff picture through interconference games against New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
Ideally, Wilson would be completely healthy for such a run. As great as it would be for Wilson to get these consequence-free opportunities by any means necessary, the last thing the Jets should do is rush him back. Wilson must have a clean bill of health for his return.
If that’s not the case, the Jets can’t go back to White.
That’s not entirely White’s fault. So many outsiders trumpeted him as a savior that there was no possible place to go but down. But the Jets have gone through enough kookiness in 2021. Now, White only represents what’s gone: hope and instant gratification.
Sunday’s loss, however, suggests that this White situation may be too far gone to salvage. It’s already bringing some ugly side effects: one of the recipients of his interceptions, Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer, flat out thanked White for his unintended generosity.
“I knew I was the only (defensive back) that didn’t have (a takeaway) yet, so I had to figure out a way to go get one,” Poyer said. “Thank you, Mike White, for giving us five.”
Knowing the NFL’s comedy landscape and its reliance on metropolitan pratfalls, an incident like that could define the Jets-Bills rivalry for years to come.
The time may come for White to rise into the NFL spotlight again. He’s still young at age 26. This eventful stretch has perhaps extended his professional career by several years.
All it takes is one memorable football moment to keep a quarterback on the lips of front office executives. Blake Bortles went to the AFC title game. Colt McCoy took down the Patriots as a starter in Cleveland. Ryan Fitzpatrick might play until Armageddon thanks to his Harvard connection alone.
But White’s next chance won’t come – and probably was never meant to come – in New York.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags