There’s an old football adage that says the most popular player is on any team. That’s because when a starting QB is struggling, the idea of the backup QB always seems better than the starter, and they never have to prove it (or disprove it) on the field. In Week 8, New York Jets backup Mike White cemented his place as the most popular player on the team with a historic starting debut, which is likely the scariest thing Zach Wilson saw on Halloween.
Who is New York Jets QB Mike White?
You probably know Dana White and Reggie White, and even Betty White. However, chances are you hadn’t heard of Mike White before today.
White grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as more of a baseball player than a QB, per Sports Illustrated. After starting to play the position in high school, though, his talent got him a scholarship to the nearby University of Southern Florida.
Following his sophomore season, he transferred to the University of Western Kentucky and flourished. He threw for over 4,000 yards in each of his final two seasons, which was enough to catch the eye of NFL scouts.
The Dallas Cowboys picked the Hilltoppers QB in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. After a season in Big D, the Cowboys cut him loose, and White signed in with the New York Jets.
For the 2019 and 2020 seasons, White bounced back and forth between the Jets roster and the practice squad. When Gang Green took Zach Wilson out of BYU with the No. 2 overall pick in 2021, White entered a competition with equally-green James Morgan for the primary backup spot.
White won the competition and, when the Jets lost Wilson with a sprained PCL in his right knee, White came in then got the start in Week 8 vs. the heavily-favored Cincinnati Bengals.
White put on a show leading the Jets to a massive upset over the Cincinnati Bengals
It looked like the Jets would again be the sacrificial lambs in Week 8 when the Cincinnati Bengals came to MetLife Stadium. Cincy came in at 5-2, and Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase led one of the hottest offenses in the NFL.
What the Bengals didn’t count on was Mike White.
White led the Jets offense on a 511-yard, 34-point outburst that gave the team just its second win of the 2021 season. The Jets hadn’t scored that many points since Week 12 of the 2019 season, and they haven’t put up that many yards since a 512-yard game in Week 5 of 2018.
White himself was phenomenal. He was 37-of-45 for 405 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. He also caught a two-point conversion on a trick play to get the Jets to 34 points.
This performance wasn’t just great. It was historic. Elias Sports Bureau (h/t @RichCimini) reported that White’s 11-of-11 start was the longest streak to begin a first career start since 1978. He also became just the second QB to throw for over 400 yards in his debut start since 1950, joining Cam Newton, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
It was a great day overall for the Jets franchise, but what about for their franchise QB?
Rookie QB Zach Wilson should be worried about his starting job
Zach Wilson’s 2021 stat line reads like this: 104-of-181 (57.5%) for 1,168 yards, four touchdowns, and a still-league-leading nine picks in six games.
In just one game, Mike White threw for a better percentage (82.2%), more than a quarter of the yards, and one fewer touchdowns than Wilson.
The New York Jets invested a highly-valuable No. 2 pick on Wilson. That means that he will continue to be the quarterback of the future until he either is or busts out. It doesn’t mean he has to be the QB of the present, though, and White will get a chance to try and make that the case.
White’s performance guaranteed himself another start and gave the Jets the ability to make sure they don’t rush Wilson back. If the backup-turned-starter can put up another good performance at the Indianapolis Colts next week, he may be able to solidify the position for the season.
This could actually be ideal for New York. Letting Wilson sit and learn could be good for his development. It would allow him to focus on learning the mental side of the NFL while also letting him strengthen his somewhat slight 6-foot-2, 214-pound frame.
The worst thing that could happen for Wilson and the Jets is if White stays hot, the team forces Wilson back in, and the rookie plays poorly. This would cause an uprising from the Jets fans, which could permanently damage the young signal-caller’s psyche.
The Jets could be in a good spot right now, but, of course, it is still the Jets. The franchise and its fans should enjoy White and his fantastic performance now before something happens to mess it up in true Jets fashion.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference
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