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Jets 34 Bengals 31: Long Live Mike White!

Syndication: The Record Danielle Parhizkaran/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

“He’s a stud, man. Come on now, it’s Mike White.” -Jets running back Ty Johnson last Monday

Longtime Yankees radio announcer John Sterling has a frequent saying. If you listen to a Yankees radio broadcast you are almost guaranteed to hear it at least once per game.

“You can’t predict baseball.”

After today it seems like the same could be said about football.

Some things just defy explanation. The Bengals entered this game leading the AFC. The Jets entered this game 1-5 off an embarrassing loss with a backup quarterback making his first NFL start.

Maybe you could have argued the Bengals were due for a letdown coming off an exhilarating blowout win over the Baltimore Ravens. Maybe they would look past a bad Jets team. And maybe a Jets team embarrassed by New England last weekend would be motivated to put that game behind them with a spirited effort.

In that sense, maybe it shouldn’t have been any great shock that the Jets dominated the first quarter. The Jets were due a decent offensive start. No NFL team, no matter how bad, can sustain the Jets’ levels of first quarter ineptitude for a full season. Maybe Mike LaFleur could finally script up a fast start, but surely the Jets would fall back to earth.

Still, when the Bengals were able to get a pair of interceptions on deflected errant passes, it seemed like the natural order of things was taken over. The Jets defense produced a goal line stand after the first one, but the Bengals got on the board with a touchdown early in the second quarter to tie the game 7-7, needing to drive only 15 yards for the score.

Once the Bengals took a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, you could be forgiven for thinking it was over. The Jets kept making unforced errors. Matt Ammendola kicked a field goal attempt into the woods. Jamison Crowder fumbled, giving Cincinnati another short field. Robert Saleh didn’t challenge a contested catch that set up a touchdown. The Jets got burned on a gadget play for a big gain.

Then Mike White took over. Perhaps the unlikeliest hero in recent memory, the backup quarterback led the Jets on a 10 play touchdown drive right before the half. When a touchdown pass to Keelan Cole was wiped out by a review, he followed by throwing a beautiful tight window touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios. The Jets had cut their deficit to 3 heading into the locker room.

From that point, the Jets scored on every possession until their final drive of the fourth quarter where they picked up a pair of first downs to run out the clock.

White put up one of the best Jets quarterbacking performances in recent memory, completing 37 of 45 passes for 405 yards. He had 3 touchdowns as well. Yes, there were 2 interceptions, but they were irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Simply put, if you were expecting this type of performance I’d wager you were in White’s immediate family. Even the Jets themselves didn’t seem like they were expecting it. They traded last Monday for a quarterback presumably to take White’s spot in the lineup while Zach Wilson was out.

What does this mean for the long run? Have the Jets found their Tom Brady? Can White be a viable backup? Was this just a one time deal?

These are questions none of us can answer right now. For the time being, I suggest we all just enjoy an amazing victory. We have had too few of them over the last decade and too many games like we saw in Foxborough last weekend. My only current takeaway is that White should remain in the starting lineup for the upcoming game against the Colts and shouldn’t cede his spot in the lineup until his play returns to earth whether that comes in one week or fifteen years.

White certainly was the biggest star of the game for the Jets, but he wasn’t the only hero.

It was a stellar day for Michael Carter who posted 172 yards from scrimmage. Fellow rookie Elijah Moore posted his best day as a pro with 6 catches for 67 yards. CJ Mosley returned to action and showed what a difference he makes on this defense with 10 tackles. Shaq Lawson recorded the team’s first interception of the year. There are few players less likely to have recored it, but it was important. With the Jets trailing 31-26 and under 5:00 left in the fourth quarter, Lawson deflected a pass into the air and came down with it, setting up White’s 14 yard game-winning touchdown to Tyler Kroft. Sheldon Rankins posted a pair of tackles for a loss, including the sack that ended Cincinnati’s last drive. Even Jabari Zuniga came off the practice squad and recorded a sack.

I could go on with superlatives, but let me turn away from the players for a second and talk about the team’s much maligned coaching staff for having the team ready to play. Particular credit goes to Mike LaFleur. Whether or not it was the move from the field to the booth, LaFleur implemented changes many have been begging to see all season. He got aggressive early in the game. He spread the field and even occasionally gave us four receivers at the same time. He activated the screen game. He even called a couple of passes for Jamison Crowder, including one on a two point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter. The easiest thing in the world to do is to get super conservative with a backup quarterback. Sometimes to win as an underdog, you need to roll the dice, however. LaFleur did just that.

I have written extensively about what this season means for the Jets. It’s not only about wins and losses. It is about the sometimes vague notion of progress. We want to see a competitive football team. More than that, we want to see a team that is consistently getting better. That is part of the reason last week’s loss stung so much. The bye week was one of the first major benchmarks of the season. The Jets came out and played their worst game against New England.

I can’t say I had high hopes for this game or this quarterback entering the game against Cincinnati. Even when we got to the second half with the Jets playing competitive football, I wasn’t sure they could win. And in some ways I was all right with that. The team had acquitted itself far better than almost anybody could have imagined.

Of course progress isn't completely separated from wins and losses, and there is no better sign of progress than a win over a quality team.

Enjoy this one, Jets fans. We’ve earned it. And maybe our team is just moving in the right direction.