EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It would’ve been an absurd topic of discussion even 24 hours earlier, and maybe it still is. The Jets are too heavily invested in Zach Wilson as their franchise quarterback to even imagine them giving a shot to anyone else.
It would be crazy to even suggest it. But then it would’ve been crazy to think Mike White – “Mike F—ing White,” as Jets running back Ty Johnson called him – could do what he did on Sunday afternoon. In his first NFL start, he threw for 405 yards, three touchdowns, and even caught a pass on a two-point conversion. It was the most passing yards by a Jets quarterback in 21 years, and maybe one of the most impressive quarterback performance the Jets have ever had.
And so the question was asked: Is it at all possible that White, the 26-year-old who has now played in two games in four seasons and who had Jets fans chanting his name on Sunday afternoon, could end up being the long-term answer to the Jets’ quarterback question?
“We’ll take it day to day,” said diplomatic Jets head coach Robert Saleh after New York’s thrilling, 34-31 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. “But anything’s possible.”
That’s not a “No.”
OK, it’s not a “Yes” either and it’s going to take a heck of a lot more than one great game for the Jets to rethink their commitment to Wilson, the youngster they took with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft just six months ago and who was so promising he convinced them to trade their last franchise quarterback away. But in the short-term – even if the short term is the rest of this season – it’s not the most ridiculous scenario after what everyone just saw.
Because, let’s face it: Wilson hasn’t been good at all during his rookie season. He’s had one good game, which really was three good quarters in a win over the Tennessee Titans. He’s thrown just four touchdowns with nine interceptions, and under his direction the Jets’ offense ranked second-to-last in the NFL. Based simply on performance, he hasn’t been in White’s league. Not even close.
Maybe White’s carriage will turn right back into a pumpkin on Thursday night in Indianapolis when he makes the second start of his NFL career. But what if it doesn’t? What if he plays well again and the Jets’ offense keeps clicking, whether they win again or not? What do the Jets do then if Wilson is healthy the following week? How could they take a winning quarterback out?
And what if they do, but Wilson continues to struggle? How much pressure from the fans and media – and maybe ownership — will be on Saleh to go back to White? And for the sake of his team, will he eventually have to give in?
Maybe it’s too early to consider all that. Most of those questions are unanswerable questions right now, since the fireworks White provided on Sunday might not even be enough of a spark to truly light up a quarterback controversy – even in a city like New York that simply can’t resist them. But White was good enough for one game to at least open up the question. He was so good, in fact, that it might be impossible for the Jets to take White out if he keeps energizing the offense the way he did against the Bengals.
And it wasn’t just about his stellar numbers – 37-of-45 for 405 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions that deflected off his receivers first. Nor was it just the overall offensive numbers – 511 yards total, more than 150 more than the Jets have had in any game this season and their most since 2018.
It was about what his performance did for his teammates and for this demoralized fanbase. The fans spent much of the fourth quarter chanting “Mike White!” They’ve been waiting for years for a player to cheer like that.
And honestly, would anyone be shocked if video emerges of some of his teammates doing it, too?
“It’s Mike F-ing White,” said running back Ty Johnson. “Let’s put it to bed: It’s Mike F—ing White. He’s a savage. He’s a dog. He’s an animal.”
“He was going crazy,” added running back Michael Carter. “I see it every day form him, though. I’m not surprised by what he just did. Y’all are. But I’m not. At all.
“They should be chanting Mike White’s name. He deserves that.”
White definitely earned his moment. It remains to be seen if it’ll be anything more than that. But there are countless stories in sports about an athlete getting a chance at someone else’s expense to emerge from obscurity and turning that moment into a long, unexpected career. For White, a 2018 fifth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, to zoom past Wilson to become the Jets’ franchise quarterback, seems like the longest of longshots.
But it wouldn’t be the first longshot in sports to come in.
For now, though, the only promise he has about his future is that it will continue four days from now. He will get another opportunity to force the Jets to think about him a little more, to inch towards reconsidering all their grand plans. And of course Saleh held the door open for White to do just that, even if he knows it’s a 99.9 percent certainty that the Jets’ future – and his – is really still in Wilson’s hands.
But White’s hands might be capable hands, too. And if no one else imagined that before Sunday afternoon, White certainly did.
“A hundred percent, no doubt,” he said. “I have an immense amount of faith in myself. And I think that I can go out there and execute the offense and move the offense. Today was just an affirmation for it.”
Of course, even White’s faith and imagination had its limits. He never once thought his first start would include chants of “Mike White” ringing in his ears.
“At first I had to like listen again,” he said. “I was like ‘Are they chanting my name?’”
Yes they were. And maybe they’ll be doing it two weeks from now, too, when the Jets are back home again to face the Buffalo Bills. And who knows? If he keeps this up, maybe Jets fans will be chanting “Mike White” a lot longer than that.