Sitting in the corner of the end zone with his hands pointing skyward, Mike White let out a cry.
He had just picked up an assist in Jamison Crowder’s end zone for a two-point conversion that gave the Jets an unlikely 34-31 lead at the end of the fourth quarter.
White’s cries were drowned out by those of the exuberant Metlife Jets loyalists, whose chants echoed throughout the stadium.
âMike Blanc! Mike Blanc! Mike White! They shouted.
In their wildest dreams, no one could have imagined the scene that was unfolding in East Rutherford.
White’s two-point conversion was the icing on the cake, crowning the best quarterback performance the Jets have had in years. The former fifth-round pick from Western Kentucky completed 37 of 45 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns and two interceptions, both on downs. His quarterback rating was 107.9.
White’s exit marked only the second time in NFL history that a quarterback threw more than 400 yards on his first start. It was also the first time that a Jet launched 400 since Vinny Testaverde in 2000, 21 years ago.
READ: Mike White shines in first career start as Jets upset Bengals
And when all was said and done, he needed every last yard to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, the team that came into the day as the AFC seed. He was, in short, exceptional.
“It’s Mike effing White, okay,” Ty Johnson said on the podium after the game. ” It’s a dog. It’s an animal. It’s Mike effing White.
“I see him every day from him so I’m not surprised by what he just did,” said Michael Carter, who had 172 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. “You all are, but I’m not at all.”
The script might have been Hollywood, but New York’s running backs play certainly wasn’t. There’s no getting around the total shock White’s performance caused on Sunday. This does not happen often, let alone in New York. Jets fans won’t long forget that.
The Jets had reached their rockiest bottom a week ago. A 54-13 loss to New England Patriots people everywhere were wondering about the future of this football team. The coaching staff were most blamed, with Saleh being accused of not preparing and Mike LaFleur being seen as unable to come up with a competent game plan. After five losses in six games, the concerns, while exaggerated, were well founded. The Jets looked absolutely lost.
Zach Wilson’s LCP Sprain adding insult to insult. This was meant to stagnate any potential growth opportunity in the future, forcing the team to stand still until he could return. He also revealed New York’s supposed failure to acquire a proper backup quarterback during the offseason, a critical point for the Jets.
So when the Jets were forced to turn to White, an unnamed 26-year-old player with not even a single start under his belt, belief in an already crumbling organization was at an all-time low. This is what made the events that unfolded on Sunday so incredible.
“I know that sometimes from the outside, the decisions scouts and coaches make can seem crazy,” said Saleh, who seemed keenly aware of the criticisms leveled at the organization. âBut we see these guys every day. We can see these guys operating. And Mike is fantastic. He’s ready, he’s shown throughout camp, throughout OTAs, that he deserves to be one of those guys and obviously he showed that today.
The Jets took advantage of the quarterback’s perceived weakness early on. New York chose to host, opening the game with five straight assists, all completed, to roam the pitch. An off-tackle from Michael Carter finished the run and gave the Jets their first points in the first quarter of the season.
“Mike [LaFleur] came to see me on Saturday and called me and said he was going to ‘drop out’ to start the game, âWhite said. “I think the decision to cut him early caught them off guard.”
LaFleur, to his credit, was masterful. He was one step ahead of the Cincinnati defense the entire game, mixing up games of gadgets to go along with a short passing game that gave his playmakers the ball into space. The âPhilly Specialâ that ultimately gave the Jets the 34-31 lead was just him showing. Part of the reason LaFleur looked so prescient on Sunday was his decision to quit the game from the box.
He used to roam behind the scenes to streamline communication with his quarterback, but with White for Wilson, Sunday seemed like a good time to go upstairs, where he sat all his time in San Francisco. After this week’s masterclass, Saleh assured the media that LaFleur will be here for good to move forward.
The Jets may have caught the Bengals off guard with their airstrike, but down 31-20 with just seven minutes to go, the element of surprise has worn off. New York was 0-38 over the past five seasons as it shot 11 or more points in the fourth quarter.
White wasted no time, running an eight-play, 75-yard practice in under three minutes in the air. Ty Johnson’s tightrope to enter the end zone on a 19-yard touchdown pass brought the Jets under five.
Needing a save, the Jets defense went on to pull off their first interception of the season. Shaq Lawson smothered a Joe Burrow screen, flipping the ball high in the air before lowering it itself and placing New York in the red zone.
Just two games later, White paced the field and found Tyler Kroft wide open in the back of the end zone to give the Jets the lead. Crowder’s pass to White scored two more points and sparked cheers from all 67,000 participants.
One more defensive save and a stealthy quarterback to miss the time sealed the deal, giving New York their second win of the season.
White will likely have two more chances to show what he can do at the bar before Wilson returns. And while Saleh left the door open after the game, saying “anything is possible,” the Jets are unlikely to return to second place when he is healthy.
The fact that the question had to be answered, however, is revealing. The Jets have been looking for their franchise quarterback for almost half a century.
And even though it only lasts a week, they found one in the most unexpected place.
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