In the NFL, it’s become a challenge for teams to find “their guy,” their quarterback of the foreseeable future, mainly due to the difficulty of finding the perfect player, even with a top five pick.
In a three year span, the Dallas Cowboys drafted two top five quarterbacks in the NFL, both in the fourth round or later: Dak Prescott and Mike White.
Okay, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Prescott hasn’t proven himself yet.
Despite the verdict not being out on the 2018 fifth round pick, there was certainly a lot of buzz in the Meadowlands on Sunday as White passed and caught his way to a 34-31 win against the (former) top team in the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals.
One of the biggest indicators of his good day came early, as he went a perfect 7-for-7 for 65 yards on the first drive of the game, capping it off with Michael Carter rushing a touchdown. White led the Jets to just their first score of any kind in the first quarter all year. For those who aren’t keeping track, Sunday’s game was in Week 8.
White threw for 400 yards in a game for the first time in Jets history since Vinny Testaverde in 2000. To rephrase, that was the first time I had ever been alive for a New York Jets 400 yard passing game. Not Darnold, not Fitzpatrick, not Sanchez, not Farve, not Pennington. Mike White. He looked poised, comfortable and like a true leader of this team. He didn’t get too reliant on any one receiver either, something most newbies tend to do. Seven different receivers had at least 20 yards, with nobody exceeding 95.
On top of all of the passing successes, the third-year veteran also played a huge role in the receiving game, catching a crucial two point conversion to put the team up by three.
The most miraculous thing about his performance on Sunday was how unexpected it was. This is a Jets squad that is still developing, trying to find key young players to build around (they did that Sunday as well, but I digress), none more important than their rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. The No. 2 overall pick went down last week with a knee injury and will be out for the next couple games at least. There were no veteran signal-callers rostered as of last week, prompting a hasty trade for Joe Flacco, who they knew wasn’t going to suit up against the Bengals. This is White’s fourth year in the league, and he had yet to start an NFL game, much less against the top team in the AFC. The offense had been struggling immensely with Zach Wilson (and since 2015 really), so who would’ve guessed such an outburst?
Now it’s time to come back down to Earth just a little. White was far from perfect, throwing two interceptions early on in this game, one of which was almost brought back for a pick six. The game was impressive, yes, but something to note is that the Bengals had almost no professional tape on this guy, so they weren’t aware of any of his tendencies or overall play styles.
Some of the offensive credit should also go to Mike LaFleur, who easily called his best game as the Jets’ OC on Sunday. Instead of relying heavily on the run game like most would with an inexperienced man under center, he decided to go against the grain and play through the air. The Cincinnati defense had no answers, getting torn apart by flea flickers and dinks and dunks. LaFleur knew White wasn’t going to start throwing bombs like brother (and Packers HC) Matt LaFleur’s quarterback Aaron Rodgers, so he instead drew up plenty of short, effective pass plays.
One interesting tidbit as well is the PFF quarterback rankings for this past week. White didn’t even make the top 10, despite leading the league in passing yards this week. Sam Darnold (129 yards, 0 touchdowns) was first overall, so you may take it with a grain of salt. However, it should be noted that PFF grades heavily based on film studies and puts virtually no consideration into passing stats, so while it may feel like a snub, there may be some truth behind it.
So okay, we have this new quarterback that, despite a small sample size, tore it up last Sunday. White has one or two more weeks to prove to the world that he deserves to play over Wilson. That’s not a bad situation to have. I don’t think he’ll light the league on fire this Thursday like he did in Week 8, but even a formidable follow-up will certainly give head coach Robert Saleh a tough decision to make when Wilson returns.
My current hope is that White continues his streak of successes, giving the 2021 first round pick a chance to learn the system a little more. Watching from the sidelines isn’t necessarily a demotion, but a learning experience for the young quarterback, especially with early struggles from all of the rookie QBs thus far. This doesn’t mean that New York is out on Wilson by any means, as you don’t just give up on such a touted prospect halfway through his first year. He is still very much a part of their future plans. One thing’s for sure though. All eyes on Thursday night will be on QB1 Mike White, the newly crowned King of New York.