Jets quarterback Mike White (5) during pregame on Nov. 27, 2022.

Jets quarterback Mike White (5) during pregame on Nov. 27, 2022. Credit: Lee S. Weissman

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Mike White had just captivated the crowd inside MetLife Stadium, leading to thousands of fans chanting his name. When he saw his wife after he led the Jets over the Bears last Sunday, she had one question for him.

“Who are you?”

White is the unexpected leader of the Jets offense.

He had a brilliant game against Chicago, finishing with 315 yards and three touchdown passes in his first start in more than a year and just the fourth of his career.

Of course, it earned White another start this Sunday against the Vikings. It also led to questions about whether White could be the Jets’ long-term answer at quarterback now that Zach Wilson has been demoted to the scout team so he can work on his fundamentals.

White, though, said his focus is on Sunday’s game in Minnesota and nothing more. He won’t allow himself to look at what could be.

“I’m personally going to attack this on a week-by-week basis, trying to beat Minnesota this week, do it and have fun with my guys,” White said. “Once this week’s over, we move on to whoever we have next week. I truly believe that’s the only way you can play and that’s how you stay focused in the now.”

Robert Saleh has said that Wilson will be back on the field at some point this season. If White performs well and helps improve the Jets' playoff chances, it will be hard for Saleh to turn back. White said he isn’t looking over his shoulder, regardless.

According to White, he did that when he was in a quarterback competition as a junior in high school — and he didn’t get the job. His approach as a senior, when the same situation presented itself, was different. He “just played” and he won the starting job.

“Whenever you’re looking over [your] shoulder you’re not going to play to your true potential,” White said. “The human aspect of it, you’re definitely going to —- but you got to find a way whatever your process is or mental ability is to erase that and just go play.”

Being a father and having a family have helped White find that balance. Mike and Mallory have twin 1-year-olds. White said when he got home from Sunday’s game, they ran to him and wanted to play.

“That’s the coolest thing of having kids: It helps you separate football and outside life,” he said. “Whenever I’m in here, I’m Mike White the quarterback. But whenever I go home, I’m just Millie and Maddox’s dad. It’s so cool.”

White referenced his second NFL season with the Cowboys. He was competing with Cooper Rush to be Dak Prescott’s backup. White said it took over his life and he didn’t play well. Rush got the job. White was released and signed by the Jets.

“I was so consumed and stressed and worried about what was going on, I took it with me outside the facility,” White said. “I just flat-out didn’t play well. I lost the job and that’s how I ended up here. You got to be able to separate work and home.”

The Jets (7-4)  have a lot of faith in White to let him run the team at such a critical time. But they’ve been careful not to anoint him as the future of this franchise with Wilson still in the mix.  

Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur was asked if White could be their franchise quarterback. He said it’s not in his or Saleh’s “thought process” at this moment.

“We’re trying to get better and go beat the Vikings right now,” LaFleur said. “That’s where our thoughts are and who’s going to give the best chance to go get that done.”

White made it look easy last week. He completed 22 of 28 passes and connected with 10 receivers. LaFleur said some of White’s strengths are how quickly he processes things and gets rid of the football.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said when his group went against the White-led scout team he gave them great work.

“I really felt like there was a lot of times that he was better than the quarterback that we faced that Sunday,” Ulbrich said. “He gave us amazing preparation. I got a lot of confidence in Mike. I think he can be a very good quarterback in this league.”

Perhaps even the Jets’ long-term answer, although that’s not on White’s mind.

“Right now,” he said, “my only concern is winning and helping this team win and seeing where that gets us the beginning or middle of January.”

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