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Jets fans like Mike White, maybe even once Zach Wilson is back

Mike White's most incredible plays from his first NFL start

Watch New York Jets quarterback Mike White's most incredible plays from his first NFL start, a 34-31 win over the Bengals in Week 8 of the 2021 season.

Will this be a quirky footnote in another terrible Jets season, or a franchise-defining plot twist that generations of fans claim to have witnessed, the lucky few who were there for "The Mike White Game?"

The smart money is on the former, the sentimental money on the latter.

But in the moment, all that could be said with certainty on a weird, wildly entertaining Halloween was that the Jets and their fans were able to bask in a rare moment of unfettered joy.

The punctuation mark came late in the fourth quarter in a 34-31 upset of the Bengals on Sunday, when a far-less-than-capacity holiday crowd at MetLife Stadium began what sounded like a chant that went like this:

"Mike White! Mike White! Mike White!"

What did Mike White think of that? "At first I had to kind of listen again, like, ‘Are they chanting my name?’ " he said later. "Then I tried to stay locked into the game."

Had he ever heard his name chanted before? "No, I have not," he said. "So that was pretty cool."

The whole thing was pretty cool — for fans desperate for something to cheer about, and for something to talk about.

For example: Who starts at quarterback Thursday night in Indianapolis? Coach Robert Saleh confirmed White would get the call again, despite the presence of Super Bowl-winning backup Joe Flacco.

The more intriguing question was whether White could actually play himself into a longer-term starting job, the one theoretically occupied by injured rookie Zach Wilson.

When Saleh began that answer by saying "anything’s possible," the raised eyebrows and cocked ears in the interview room made it difficult to focus on the rest of his answer — something about reps and opportunities.

Yup, White was that good Sunday. How good? It was one of the best starting debuts by a quarterback in the history of the NFL, even if he did throw two interceptions that were tipped by Jets receivers.

White was 37-for-45 for 405 yards and three touchdowns, discombobulating the Bengals with a variety of short passes, even though the Jets’ No. 1 wide receiver, Corey Davis, missed the game because of an injury.

White also caught a pass from Jamison Crowder on a two-point conversion after the winning touchdown.

"The things that went through my mind in those two seconds," he said, "were, ‘Just don’t drop it. Don’t drop it. You’re in front of everybody. Don’t drop it.’ "

Saleh and White both said that maligned coordinator Mike LaFleur planned to have White take a lot of shots downfield, but that the Bengals defense sought to take those away, leading to the short stuff. It worked.

White, 26, was a fifth-round draft pick out of Western Kentucky by the Cowboys in 2018 but did not play in a regular-season game until relieving Wilson in a blowout loss to the Patriots on Oct. 24.

He showed positive signs in that game, and even more against the Bengals, making many wonder why the Jets bothered to trade for Flacco last week.

"I have an immense amount of faith in myself, and I think I can go out there and execute the offense and move the offense, and today was just an affirmation of it," White said.

He showed mental fortitude when he shrugged off setbacks such as the two interceptions and an overturned touchdown pass. And he showed physical resilience when he left the game after taking blows to his shoulder and head, and soon returned.

"I probably stayed on the ground a little too long," he said, lamenting that it led to having to go through concussion protocol. "I was watching the game from the blue [examination] tent, through the mesh," he said.

White said he will do whatever job he is given. On Thursday, that job will be starting against the Colts. But what if he wins again? Things could get mighty interesting come the Nov. 14 home game against the Bills.

If Wilson is healthy and starts, how long before those chants start again?

"One thing I’ve learned about Jets fans is they’re extremely passionate," Saleh said, "and if you’re winning, you’re a winner. And if you’re losing, you’re a loser. And Mike put out a winning performance."

When it was over, Sunday’s winner left MetLife Stadium to share the moment with his wife, parents, sister and friends, walking between barricades as Jets fans cheered for him one more time.

Mike White!!!

New York Sports