The Jets have, as expected, announced that Mike White will start against the Bills on Sunday. For the second year in a row, his third start comes against a Bills team that is the class of the AFC East.
In 2021, White threw four interceptions in a blowout loss and that would be his final start of the year. We’re going to investigate what happened and how the Jets can avoid the same thing happening again.
Looking back on that game, the Jets fell into an early 10-0 hole but then competed well for most of the first half. However, missed opportunities and a late Bills score made it a 17-3 game at half time.
Things then simply fell apart after half time, as the Bills double-dipped by scoring on their opening drive, then White threw his second interception on the very next play to set up another Bills score. Another White interception on the next series was followed up by yet another Bills touchdown against a demoralized Jets defense, making the score 38-3 and the game basically over.
It ended up being a 45-17 win for the Bills and has since been written off as a challenge too far for the inexperienced White. However, looking back on that game, are there things we can take from it to give us cause for optimism this time around?
What went right
The Jets passed for 298 yards on the day, although much of this came in garbage time (including 47 yards for Flacco, who finished off one of the late scoring drives after White had taken a big hit).
However, prior to his disastrous third quarter, White had 129 passing yards in the first half. That number sounds even better when compared with Zach Wilson’s two starts against the Bills. In week 10 this year, he had 154 yards in the whole game and in week 18 in 2021, he managed just 87 yards (albeit that he was without Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios and Elijah Moore - and then also lost Jamison Crowder early on).
The Jets ended up with 17 points which isn’t great when the other team is racking up 45, but when your defense already held this same Bills team to 17 in a game this season, it can give you a chance. Cut out the interceptions that can stall drives and set up the opponent with good field position and you’d be in the game.
While all the focus was on his four interceptions, White made some good plays, with seven completions for more than 12 yards. By contrast, Wilson had just three such completions back in the win earlier this year as he instead leaned on the running game most of the time.
Here’s one such play, on which White impressively progresses to his third read to hit on a downfield completion.
What went wrong
You can’t expect to throw four interceptions and win games at the NFL level, but the last three of these came as White was effectively chasing a deficit. Two of these three were thrown deep into double coverage on the kind of play you’d like to think Mike LaFleur would have the patience not to call - and White the foresight not to attempt - in a tighter game.
White’s first interception was damaging, though, as it led to the Bills increasing their 7-0 lead to 10 with a field goal on the next drive.
A review of this play shows that White probably made the right decision here to go underneath to Jamison Crowder, but the pass went wayward due to a hit as his arm was coming forwards.
There’s an element of misfortune here from White (who would later claim he couldn’t feel his forearm at times due to an injury in his previous start), but he will have learned lessons about his internal clock and how quickly he needs to get the ball out.
His final incompletion once again highlights his frustration and impatience as he threw this pass far too late, but tried to force it in there anyway. Another lesson learned.
White’s effort to keep the Jets in the game saw him almost set up another score late in the first half as he stepped up in the pocket to hit Corey Davis on this big pass. Unfortunately, Davis lost a fumble at the end of the play and the opportunity was lost. More bad luck.
The other thing that went wrong was the fact that the defense gave up 45 points. This had nothing to do with White - other than any impact his inability to sustain drives and interceptions setting up the Bills with good field position would have had on their energy levels and the pressure exerted upon them.
It seems unlikely the Bills will repeat this output. As noted, they already got held to 17 by the Jets earlier this year, so the Jets will aim to keep the score down. Again, White throwing interceptions is the main thing that could undermine this so him not doing that will be vital.
You can see how much the Jets have improved defensively since that game just by looking at the starting line-ups. Shaq Lawson, Del’Shawn Phillips and Jarrad Davis (who got beaten for the opening touchdown) were starting in the front seven and the starting secondary was made up of Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, Jarrod Wilson and Ashtyn Davis. In fact, the only current starters who started that game are CJ Mosley, John Franklin-Myers and Quinnen Williams.
Even that lineup was weakened as Echols got hurt and the Bills picked on his replacement, Javelin Guidry, with Trevon Diggs getting a number of big plays on him.
What needs to happen this time
White’s interceptions were disappointing and he’s spoken about how much he learned from this experience. Now he has another chance to show what he’s learned.
Simply not chucking those two long balls into double coverage will be a good start and you’d like to think those wouldn’t have happened without the desperation, frustration and impatience that came from the big deficit they had at the time.
The Jets should be able to lean on their defense and running game in ways they had no opportunity to in 2021. Don’t be surprised if they play conservatively after the first series to try and ensure the game remains close heading into the second half.
Protecting White and having him get the ball out fast will also be crucial. In the 45-17 loss he also lost a fumble, although this was eventually overturned to an incompletion by the replay booth.
Ultimately, the gameplan won’t be any different from what it was with Wilson. There were missed opportunities in all of his starts this year and White has been able to find and convert these more effectively without needing to resort to reckless risk-taking.
The Bills are obviously a dangerous team and have a few players back since these teams met earlier in the season. However, the Jets are equipped to compete with them. Hopefully White can continue to produce well and give the Jets the chance to pull another upset.