Jets believe they can put game in Mike White’s hands -- that’s why he’ll stay the starter

New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) looks to pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter.
New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) looks to pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter. / Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Mike White is the Jets' starting quarterback. And Mike White is going to remain the Jets starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.

The only thing that can change that is not one, but several poor performances from him over the ensuing few weeks. The Jets do not anticipate that happening. So the Jets do not anticipate sending White to the bench anytime soon.

Robert Saleh cannot say that publicly — obviously. That’s why Robert Saleh continues to reiterate a plan to go back to Zach Wilson at some point this year.

But rest assured: As long as White continues to play well, White will continue to be the Jets quarterback.

“It’s Mike’s opportunity to make noise,” Saleh said Monday.

Saleh is dancing around a delicate matter. There are politics at play here, reputations on the line. The Jets made a potentially franchise-altering decision when they selected Wilson second overall last year. When you draft a quarterback that high, you’re saying you believe he can be one of the best in the NFL for the next decade-plus. The apprehension to admit the Jets might have gotten this selection so wrong is exactly why the team continues to publicly state they believe in Wilson and what he can still accomplish in green.

But the fact they had to pull the plug on Wilson after just 20 starts speaks volumes about how bad it had gotten behind closed doors, no matter what was said publicly. That’s a tough pill to swallow for those who signed off on their original evaluation. So tough, it’s going to take much more than a JaMarcus Russell-like beginning to Wilson’s career to get him completely cast aside.

But do not doubt the validity of this even a little: The moment New York handed its starting quarterback job to White, there was nothing Wilson could do to get it back.

It became White’s job to lose, and all he’s done since taking over is lengthen his leash.

“He’s played really well,” Saleh said. “He’s played really well.”

Internally and externally there was a ceiling placed on the Mike White hype (by most with a rational train of thought) following the Jets' victory over the Chicago Bears. Yes, White was brilliant in going 22-of-28 for 315 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the rain, but the Bears also stunk. You didn’t know if this past week, when White played a much better team in the Vikings, if he’d return to earth. So, when that game kicked off, most held their breath.

White was not perfect against Minnesota, but he was pretty damn good. He threw for 369 yards and almost succeeded in bringing the Jets back after falling behind by 17. He did throw two interceptions, but one bounced off the hands of wideout Corey Davis and another was a fourth-down prayer with time expiring. White also had a would-be, game-winning touchdown pass bounce dropped by Braxton Berrios.

Here’s a better way to sum up White’s performance: He went on the road against a team with the second-best record in the entire NFL and led an offense that compiled nearly 500 yards.

The 27-year-old suddenly isn’t just a one-game wonder. He’s had three quality starts in the four games he’s finished. You can make the argument it’s four of five considering how he was playing against the Colts last year (7-of-11, 95 yards, touchdown) before leaving with an injury. He’s been, undeniably now, the Jets' best quarterback. These three games from White are better than anything Wilson has done to this point.

And that's because the Jets had to play safe with Wilson under center. They couldn’t truly open up the playbook because they had to protect him from himself. Catastrophic results tended to follow whenever they asked him to do too much. With White, that’s not the case.

This game against the Vikings has them overflowing with confidence in him.

This isn’t about managing the game anymore. The Jets believe they can go out, put the game in White’s hands, and watch him be the reason they win. Not only is the entire playbook at their disposal, but they’re adding to it with White.

“I’ll go to war for that boy,” said Garrett Wilson. “He’s got something special about him.”

There are no scholarships over at One Jets Drive. The players who give the Jets the best chance to win play. The ones who don’t do not. It’s why the Jets replaced Jacob Martin with Bryce Huff. It’s why Zonovan Knight replaced James Robinson. It’s why White is in over Wilson and there is no indication that’s going to change.

Then again, it can’t.

There would be an internal uprising if the Jets benched White now.

It’s well known that White is among the most well-liked players tucked inside the Jets locker room. It’s more than that, though. His play in practice and on Sundays has every member of this roster believing in him and what they can accomplish with him under center. They respect not only him as a man, but the work he’s put in to get to this point and how all of his past trials and tribulations have contributed to the player he is now.

Words can sway fans. Words can sway the media. Words can change public perception.

But words cannot change what players believe because their opinions are rooted in what they see every day and on the field gamedays.

Case in point: White’s fourth-and-10 strike to Davis looked great on the box score, but his teammates marveled at how it came one play after White was leveled. He picked himself off the turf, then fired a laser to keep New York alive.

“That play shows what he’s made of,” tackle Duane Brown said.

Indeed.

And White’s teammates can’t get enough of it.

While it should go without saying that White should start, there will come a time when Saleh needs to publicly acknowledge the plan to play Wilson has changed. He will need to commit to White as his team’s starter — for better or for worse — for the rest of the year. In 2017, with Christian Hackenberg waiting in the wings, Todd Bowles did the same with Josh McCown.

That point in time is not now. Not yet. These have been two tremendous performances, but at the end of the day, they’ve been just two performances.

But if White does this again against Buffalo?

If he leads the Jets to the upset victory, or just barely loses because of a bad bounce like Sunday?

The Jets will announce what everyone already knows.

It’s Mike White’s show now.

“One week at a time, guys,” Saleh said.