On Halloween of 2021, Mike White shocked the NFL throwing for 405 yards and 3 touchdowns starting in place of Zach Wilson in a Jets upset of the Bengals.
Today Mike White thrived once again. This time a Jets win was expected. He didn’t throw for 405 yards. He threw for 315. He did match the 3 touchdown output from the Cincinnati game, and the Jets beat the Bears.
Last year’s game was a lot of fun. It was a great victory over a team that almost won the Super Bowl, a bright spot in a rebuilding season.
Today’s performance has greater significance. The Jets beat the Bears 31-10 to improve their record to 7-4. With a difficult slate of road games remaining on the schedule, this was a victory the Jets simply needed to bank. They did so, and the way they did so with White piloting the ship was important.
The Jets are not currently constructed to be a quarterback dependent team. With a top notch defense, they will not need their quarterback to make plays at a Patrick Mahomes level most weeks to have a chance to win.
Most of the time, they will need a quarterback to do things like make proper reads, get the ball to the open receiver, identify his checkdown, and limit mistakes. These are things Zach Wilson failed to do consistently enough.
To be sure, White did more than this today. His performance was outstanding against a Bears defense that has plenty of issues. Against better defenses, we might not consistently expect more than 300 yards or 3 touchdowns in a game.
There are things White did independent of the opposing defense, however, that should translate to future weeks. They are the things I mentioned above, making proper reads, getting the ball to the open receiver, identifying his checkdown, and limiting mistakes.
Occasionally the Jets will need more. They actually did in the first half. Their excellent defense got off to a slow start, allowing the Bears to score on their first two possessions. With the run game also stalled early, White’s sharp start prevented the Jets from falling into a deep hole.
How much does this game tell us? Nobody can say for sure how good Mike White will be for the Jets the rest of the way.
I feel like I can say Mike White is a legitimate NFL quarterback. It was easy to write off his performance against Cincinnati in 2021 as just a career game. I know I did. Even if White doesn’t build on this effort, a quarterback capable of one performance like this per season has a spot in this league as depth at the very least.
We know White will remain the starting quarterback for at least the immediate future. This performance was so strong that White has probably earned a reprieve even if he plays poorly next week. This was the best Jets quarterback performance of the year by far. His first poor outing should not merit a ticket to the bench.
White might have some staying power. Just seeing basic competency out of the quarterback was significant. I get the feeling there was more to this, however. I think White ran the offense the way Mike LaFleur and Robert Saleh wanted it to be run.
Frequently a team’s salary structure can tell us something about the ultimate vision of the people running the team. The Jets didn’t invest heavily in a single pass catcher. They spent moderate sums on a number of players. This suggests the offense was built for the ball to be spread around. Stud rookie Garrett Wilson led the way with 5 catches for 95 yards, but ten different Jets recorded at least one reception. White kept the Bears guessing and got all of his teammates involved. That includes Elijah Moore, the receiver who has been invisible over the past two months aside from a trade request. Moore had 2 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown and suddenly seemed engaged with his team again.
Just reading between the lines, it feels like White has earned the trust of his teammates and coaches. That is no small feat. It didn’t seem like the people running the team had a lot of faith in White until recently. Remember, last year the team’s first move upon Zach Wilson getting hurt was to trade for Joe Flacco. Before Wilson was even healthy, Flacco was inserted into the lineup in White’s place. During this offseason, Flacco was retained, and it was he who received the early season starts over White when Wilson suffered a preseason knee injury.
Suffice it to say, when the coaching staff believes in the current version of Flacco over you, there isn’t a lot of faith.
Something changed in recent weeks, though. It flew under the radar, but White recently supplanted Flacco as the second quarterback active on gameday. We aren’t at practice each day, but it felt like something was happening behind the scenes. Reading between the lines this week, it seemed like there was a lot of support for the change to White in the locker room.
Some might wonder what this means for Zach Wilson. I understand the argument that the Jets should be focused on Wilson’s development. I’m not sure I see his continued presence in the lineup as the best thing for that development, however.
Is it beneficial for a struggling young quarterback to continue to struggle and take withering criticism for costing his team a shot at the Playoffs as Wilson did for much of the week? Or is it better for him to quietly work on his game in a low pressure environment in practice while the general vibe on the team is positive after a win?
Some might say Wilson can only learn by being on the field. I am not one of them. Wilson seems so raw in his development at this point that I’m not sure he was actually learning. And if you doubt a quarterback can learn on the sideline and on the practice field, let me pose a question.
Do you think Mike White could have played a game like this in 2018 or 2019? My guess is he couldn’t have. But he spent years on the practice field quietly learning and developing into a quarterback who could throw for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns today. If Mike White can learn this way, so can Zach Wilson.
And maybe because of Mike White, the Jets will be able to win while Zach Wilson learns.