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Mike White’s big day opens door for Jets’ quarterback controversy

Mike White Jets
New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) waves to fans while running off the field after the Jets defeated the against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Cue the quarterback controversy. 

Mike White will start at quarterback for a second-straight week on Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts as rookie quarterback Zach Wilson continues his recovery from a sprained PCL. That much is obvious.

Following Sunday afternoon’s upset 34-31 win over the up-and-coming Cincinnati Bengals, though, White could be on the verge of making first-year head coach Robert Saleh’s decision on who should be the No. 1 quarterback in two or three weeks a lot more interesting. 

The 26-year-old White dazzled in his first career NFL start, three years after he was drafted in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, it was a historic one. 

White threw for three touchdowns while completing 37-of-45 passes for 405 yards — the most passing yards in a single game and the first 400-yard passing game for a Jets quarterback since Vinny Testaverde on Christmas Eve in 2000. During that 21-year wait, 230 other NFL quarterbacks had hit or eclipsed the 400-yard mark in a game. 

Naturally, that poses the question of whether or not White could be a long-term answer for the Jets at the quarterback position. Especially because he led them to their first 30-plus-point output in a game in two years.

“We’ll go day-to-day, but anything is possible, right?” Saleh said. “Anything is possible.”

A logical answer, even if the path to its resolution is littered with mines. 

Wilson was given the keys to the Jets offense immediately after being selected second overall earlier this year out of BYU and given a guaranteed $35 million contract. That financial figure alone would prompt franchises to immediately go back to the rookie in an attempt to get their money’s worth because right now, that hasn’t been the case.

The 22-year-old has shown glimpses of brilliance, but it’s often an off-the-cuff version of hero ball while scrambling for his life in search of the highlight-reel-worthy play. 

It prompted Saleh at the start of the season to implore Wilson to play “boring” football — which asks the quarterback to make the necessary checkdowns in their progressions to keep the offense moving rather than stymie momentum by continuously forcing deeper shots downfield.

Wilson has had a difficult time grasping that as he’s averaged 8.7 intended air yards per pass attempt. Meanwhile, White has averaged just 5.0 intended air yards per pass attempt — but the high volume of his completions offers the promise of big games in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s offense.

“I compare it all the time to a three-point shooter in basketball,” White said. “If they’re struggling from [three-point range], they try to get to the line and see the ball go in, so I compare it a lot to that. As a quarterback, you’re seeing the ball completed and you’re moving the chains. Whether it’s five yards, six yards, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a 20-yard throw to start the game.

“It helps get the offense in a rhythm, it helps the guys kind of calm down and things of that nature.”

That’s the philosophy Saleh wants to see.

And this is the type of quarterbacking success Jets fans have been waiting for.

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