Vinny Curry has been thinking a lot about his time in Philadelphia lately. Mostly about the 2017 season, when the team went 13-3 and eventually won the Super Bowl.
It was a season that began, he remembers, with a sense that there was something different brewing inside the group during training camp practices against the Dolphins and culminated with that epic victory over the Patriots . . . on the field where the Jets played last week. In between there are a zillion other memories that run through his mind.
Those recollections are never far away from him, but he said he has been allowing them to flutter back because of what he is experiencing this season with the Jets.
“Shoot, we definitely have the group to do something special,” the defensive lineman told Newsday. “I do think about that part. We just have to continue what we’re doing, keep our heads down and punch our ticket to get in the dance.”
And they might even do it in the rare fashion that those Eagles did: with a backup quarterback leading them.
It’s a far different scenario that has put Mike White at the helm of these Jets. He replaced the poorly performing Zach Wilson as opposed to Eagles savior Nick Foles, who had to take over from Carson Wentz, who was playing at an MVP level before he tore his ACL diving for the end zone in a game against the Rams on Dec. 10, 2017.
The lesson that it is possible to make a change at the most important position on the team and continue to grow, continue to keep succeeding, continue to win, however, is a valuable resource for these Jets.
“It was amazing,” Curry said of the team rallying behind Foles. “It just shows you the type of camaraderie we had on that team and everybody believed in one another.”
That’s what he is feeling with these Jets, too.
“When there is a quarterback change, at the end of the day, we have to believe in one another,” he said. “The only thing we can control is us executing on our side of the ball. Everybody here is a professional. We really don’t get into all of that. That’s not really our game. That’s not what we get paid for. We get paid to play great defense, and for the most part of the season, guys have been executing their end.”
What has allowed the Jets to keep their ultimate dreams alive despite the struggles of one quarterback and the relative uncertainty about his replacement is the idea that there are no starters or backups on the roster, only contributors.
That, Robert Saleh said, is how he and Joe Douglas assembled the team and why White, who began the season as the inactive third-stringer, was able to rise through the depth chart to his current perch atop the team’s hierarchy.
“You’re looking for guys who can come in and start for you, period,” Saleh said. “You’re not looking for just a backup, you’re looking for a guy who can come in, and if he has to, play football. Usually in this league, it’s a war of attrition, guys are going to have to get a lot of playing time, so you’re looking for guys who you feel great about stepping on the field and not skipping a beat when their time comes.”
White’s time has come, not because of injury but because of Wilson’s poor play and immaturity. So far, no beats have been skipped.
White, though, isn’t looking ahead to becoming the next Foles or Kurt Warner or Tom Brady, the last three quarterbacks who began a Super Bowl-winning season on the bench.
“The only thing I think about is the game we play that week and knowing there are 52 other guys in the locker room I want to go out there and perform well for and keep going and see where this thing takes us,” White said.
Quarterback isn’t the only position at which backups are emerging for the Jets. Their most productive running back the past few games has been Zonovan Knight, a former practice-squad rookie who has risen up the ranks. He’s received his opportunity because of injuries to Breece Hall and Michael Carter.
“It’s the NFL,” White said. “Everybody who gets in this building is talented. It’s about perseverance and staying the course and getting ready for when your opportunity comes and running with it. That’s just the name of the game in this league. You have to bide your time, stick around as long as you can, and once you get an opportunity — and you will, because there are too many injuries and too many things that can happen — you have to go out and show the coaches what you can do.”
Curry said the same goes for the defense, too.
“We have some great players on defense, let’s be honest,” he said. “Our backups can play and go start somewhere else in the league. So it’s one of those things of accepting the role that is given to us and guys embracing it. Especially in our [defensive line] room. We have 10 guys and everybody brings something different to the table. Everybody wants to play more, but once you get a great group of guys who understand that part of what it takes to win a championship, that’s really important. That’s what it was in Philly.”
It is growing into that here with the Jets.
“We definitely got a chance to do something special, a chance to be a really special group,” Curry said. “Guys believe in themselves and keep doing what they’re doing, and when the season is over, we’ll pick our heads up and see where we’re at.”
Plenty of teams have won Super Bowls. Only a handful have done so with a backup quarterback. If things keep going well for White and the Jets, Curry might have a chance to do that twice.
“Oh, man,” he said, tickled by that idea, “how sick would that be?”
He’s already storing the memories from this season just in case.