Two weeks ago, he was celebrated for putting on a magnificent show in a stunning 34-31 upset of the Bengals. Mike White captivated the MetLife Stadium crowd that day, throwing for 405 yards and three touchdowns in one of the season’s biggest upsets and injecting something the Jets have desperately needed these last several years: hope.
He was named the AFC’s offensive player of the week. His game-day jersey and a football were sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to be put on display. He even earned an honor we’d never even heard of before: the Nickelodeon "NVP Award," which delighted his two young children.
With Zach Wilson out because of a knee injury after spending much of the season struggling to learn the offense, White took advantage of his moment, and the 26-year-old former practice-squad player made it look easy. It was the highest of highs for White, with some fans openly wondering if the Jets had discovered a latter-day Tom Brady. Even White confided earlier in the week that he believes he should have been a first overall pick.
The fall from grace didn’t take long, did it?
Those impossibly high expectations — that White was the real answer at quarterback — were never realistic anyway, and there was simply no chance that he would supplant Wilson permanently. But reality hurt as it came crashing down upon White on Sunday, when he threw four interceptions in a 45-17 drubbing by the Bills.
It doesn’t take long, does it?
"Very tough, not just on me personally, but the team," a despondent White said after going 24-for-44 for 251 yards and no touchdowns to go with the four picks, which earned him a miserable 33.4 rating. "When they’re out there fighting their tails off for four quarters and you turn the ball over four times, it’s tough."
White insisted he was not looking ahead and was concerned only about what had happened in yet another blowout loss for the Jets, their third in the last four games. But he knows what will happen next. Once it is clear that Wilson has healed sufficiently from a PCL injury he suffered last month against the Patriots, White will retake his seat on the bench.
After all, if you’re the No. 2 overall pick just a few months removed from signing a $35.1 million contract, they cut you some slack after a bad game. If you’re a 26-year-old backup who has spent most of his career on the practice squad, you don’t get that kind of latitude.
Asked if he was looking ahead to next week’s home game against the Dolphins and the possibility of another chance, White said: "Not at all, especially after what just happened. My thoughts are only on what happened and what needs to get done."
White said he tried to do too much, that his mistakes were ones of aggression that a quarterback must avoid.
"I need to be able to not get so aggressive," he said. "It’s on you to be the cool, calm, collected guy, and I just got a little too aggressive on a couple of plays. I think I let the score dictate my decision-making, and that can’t happen as a quarterback. You have to be able to block that noise out."
That’s the same problem Wilson was having before he was injured. Too often he’d look to make a spectacular play when the more prudent alternative was to check it down on a safer play that wouldn’t risk a turnover. That’s exactly what White was guilty of against the Bills.
Credit Buffalo’s No. 1-ranked defense for forcing White’s hand. The Bills limited his checkdown options by paying closer attention to the Jets’ running backs and tight ends, who had helped White move the ball down the field against the Bengals and in his limited time against the Colts before suffering a forearm injury in the first half. Buffalo baited White into being more aggressive with longer throws, and the trap worked perfectly.
"They definitely attached [additional defenders] to our underneath stuff and made us earn it down the field with tight-window throws," he said. "But we’ve got to be able to make adjustments to that. You have to be able to identify it and attack it."
White consistently failed to do that, and after throwing one interception in the first half, he added three more in a second half in which the Bills' lead went from 17-3 at intermission to 45-10 in the fourth quarter.
White was battered on a fourth-quarter hit, got the wind knocked out of him and didn’t come back, although he was fine after the game.
White knows this might have been his last chance to stay in the lineup. Coach Robert Saleh had said that his decision about who plays would happen "organically," that things would basically play out and the decision would be obvious.
The coach’s next move is a no-brainer. When Wilson is ready to play, the job is his again.