Mike White was running the Jets’ scout team offense for much of October. Now he’s leading the offense for the playoff-hungry Jets in their most important December game in seven years.
“It is crazy, but that’s the NFL,” he said.
The Jets head into Minnesota with a 7-4 record and control of their destiny with six games to go. They’re currently the seventh seed in the AFC playoff race. They haven’t been in the hunt this late in the year since 2015, when the Jets finished 10-6 and were eliminated from postseason contention on the final day.
Welcome to meaningful December football.
“It’s real ball now,” receiver Corey Davis said. “It’s December. It’s cold. It’s starting to get real. These games really mean something. It’s just a little bit more heightened in December and January.”
The Jets have faith that White can lead this franchise to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season. They handed White the ball last week for the first time in more than a year, and he rewarded that trust with a near-flawless game in a 31-10 win over the Bears. He threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns and had a 149.3 passer rating.
It’s White’s ball again Sunday against the 9-2 Vikings, who can clinch the NFC North with a win and a Detroit loss.
Robert Saleh believes the moment is not too big for White, who will make his fifth NFL start.
“He’s very calm, very cool, very coachable,” Saleh said. “He’s got a great presence in the pocket, quick delivery, processes really quickly and gets the ball where it needs to go. It’s almost like he lowers his heartbeat. It’s just not big for him. He’s been in the league now for a few years and he’s had some experience.He’s just one of those guys, with every experience he has, he finds ways to get better and learn from them so he can be better. So we’re excited for his opportunity and we’re all excited for him.”
White replaced the struggling Zach Wilson, who now is running the scout team. The defensive coaches and players said White did such a good job in that role from Weeks 4-7 that it truly prepared them for those games. The Jets went 4-0 as their defense started to establish itself as one of the top units in the NFL. On Sunday, however, the Jets’ defense could be tested more than White.
The Vikings have one of the top passing attacks and arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Justin Jefferson, who has 81 catches for 1,232 yards. Cornerbacks D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner will have their hands full.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Saleh said, “but I think it’s a challenge that our guys are excited for.”
On the other side, Minnesota has the lowest-ranked passing defense and is next-to-last in total defense. The Vikings play mostly a cover-2 defense in which players are responsible for areas of the field. White called it “a dome-ish” defense.
If White remains calm in what will be a loud building and doesn’t try to do too much, he could find a lot of short, underneath completions.
“They keep everything in front and limit the big plays,” White said. “It’s a test of patience. It’s like how many times are you going to take what we give you knowing most times quarterbacks do want to make that splash play and push the ball down the field. You can’t get caught in that game. You got to take what they give you.”
The Jets aren’t expecting White to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns every game (although he has done it twice in his four NFL starts). They’re just looking for him to make good decisions and limit his mistakes.
White has had to constantly prove himself. A fifth-round pick by Dallas in 2018, White was cut by the Cowboys before signing on with the Jets’ practice squad in 2019. He made his NFL debut last October and will be playing only his sixth NFL game on Sunday.
“A lot of things happen in this league, and you got to be ready, you got to be prepared, because when that time does come, you got to be able to seize it,” White said. “That’s how you can make a long career out of your journey.”
White seems to be in a good head space coming into this game. All of his teammates do, too. The defense has been dominant for most of the season. The offense looked rejuvenated and explosive last week with White in charge.
And for a change, the Jets are playing for something.
“We put ourselves in a pretty good position,” Davis said. “We’ve got to go finish this year off strong.”