Jets takeaways from Sunday's 34-31 win over Bengals, including Mike White's outstanding first start

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Mike White black uniform throwing football
Mike White black uniform throwing football

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The “silver lining” of the injury to Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, according to Robert Saleh, was that he’d get a chance to sit back, relax, and learn as someone else ran the Jets offense.

On Sunday, Mike White turned that silver lining into gold.

The 26-year-old White, in his first NFL start, wasn’t just outstanding – he was unbelievable. He threw for 405- yards – the first Jets quarterback to top 400 since Vinny Testaverde on Christmas Eve in 2000. And he completed 37 of 45 passes for three touchdown passes, too. It wasn’t perfect. He had two passes that were tipped into interceptions. But it was pretty close. And he even caught a pass on a two-point conversion to top off his masterful performance.

It was enough for a wild, 34-31 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. And it was enough to have the crowd at the Meadowlands spend much of the fourth quarter chanting the name of their new hero – “Mike White!”

In fact, White did so well that it’s hard to imagine he won’t get a second start when the Jets play again on Thursday night in Indianapolis. And then, if he plays this well for a second straight game …

OK, first things first: White ran the Jets’ offense to near perfection in this game playing the kind of “boring” football that Saleh wanted Wilson to play. He passed up more dangerous passes downfield for an array of short passes that kept the offense moving. He didn’t make many mistakes either. In fact, his two interceptions were tipped passes (albeit one came off running back Michael Carter’s helmet).

He had help, too. And to be fair, it was help that Wilson didn’t often get. He got terrific protection from his offensive line. And the running game finally kicked into gear behind a wonderful performance from Carter. The defense even gave a great effort bouncing back from its humiliation in New England last week.

The offense, though, was the story. It had a season-high total of 512 yards. In fact, they passed the Jets’ previous season high with a few seconds left in the third quarter. And if it weren’t for the touchdown the Bengals scored off the interception that bounced off Carter’s helmet and the field goal they got after a Jamison Crowder fumble, the Jets might have won this game in a rout.

And don’t forget: White did it all without the Jets’ No. 1 receiver, Corey Davis, who missed this game with an injured hip.

It was really an eye-opening performance – and one that explained a lot about why the Jets were so comfortable with White as their backup while so many were clamoring for them to add a veteran (like Joe Flacco) to the mix. He was as calm as could be in the pocket and made smart, quick reads, got the ball out fast and took whatever the defense was giving him.

Wilson was watching and hopefully learning because he is still the Jets’ quarterback of the future, and he’ll be back in the huddle as soon as he’s healthy no matter how well White plays. And for one game, this was quite a lesson. White put on a clinic on how this Jets’ offense is really supposed to be run.

Here are some more takeaways from White’s remarkable debut …

- Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur called this game from the booth, which is notable because he called plays for the first six games from the sidelines. He always sounded like he’d be more comfortable upstairs, but he stayed on the field because that’s where Wilson wanted him to be. Now, LaFleur may never be allowed on the sidelines again.

- Regardless of where LaFleur was calling the game from, this was his best game and it was the offense the Jets should’ve been running all along. It was mostly short passes, underneath the defense – low-risk throws with some upside. The running game also stretched out the defense the way it’s supposed to behind a wide-zone blocking scheme. And he got creative with end-arounds, an option pass for Crowder and a flea flicker. It was all a thing of beauty. And how could you not love his aggression? The Jets won the coin toss and rather than defer they took the ball and gave it to White who opened up the game with five straight passes. That had to boost everyone’s confidence right off the bat.

- White may have been the guy in the spotlight in this game, but what a tremendous performance by the rookie running back Carter. He had 77 yards on 15 carries on the ground and caught nine passes for 95 yards. The Jets rode him constantly, which is what they expected to do with their running backs all along. The coaches have long felt that he was their best bet for a breakout candidate in the backfield. This might have been his breakout game.

New York Jets running back Michael Carter (32) carries the ball on a touchdown run in the first quarter during a Week 8 NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
New York Jets running back Michael Carter (32) carries the ball on a touchdown run in the first quarter during a Week 8 NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

- It might get lost in the Mike White frenzy, but the play of the game might belong to Jets DE Shaq Lawson, who really had done nothing for them this season. After the Jets scored to pull within five points with 4:36 remaining, the Bengals had a chance to run out the clock. But on the first pass from Bengals QB Joe Burrow, Lawson tipped it at the line of scrimmage and caught it for the interception at the Bengals 14. Two plays later, White put the Jets ahead for good.

- White’s first incompletion was an interception after his pass bounced off the hands of Crowder and into the hands of Bengals S Jessie Bates, and it set off a wild series of events, starting with this: Jets rookie WR Elijah Moore gave a heck of an effort to chase down Bates on his 65-yard interception return, preventing the Pick-6 and tackling him at the 1. And that led to …

- An absolutely incredible goal-line stand from the Jets defense. They stuffed Bengals RB Joe Mixon on 1st and goal from the 1 and 2nd and goal from the 2. They got a break on third down when WR Ja’Marr Chase dropped what should have been a touchdown pass. But then on third down, Quinnen Williams sacked Burrow to end the threat.

- The Jets defense got an obvious boost from the return of two LBs – C.J. Mosley and Jarrad Davis. Mosley was outstanding, flying all over the field with a total of 10 tackles. He made two incredible tackles on the goal line to prevent touchdowns, too – one on Bengals WR Tyler Boyd and the other on Mixon.

- WR Keelan Cole made one of the greatest catches ever that didn’t count. It was an Odell Beckham-like, leaping, one-handed grab where he landed just inside the pylon before rolling out of bounds for what would’ve been – and probably should’ve been – a 12-yard touchdown. The officials, upon further review, ruled he somehow did not maintain possession of the ball while still in bounds. The Jets and the crowd were rightfully furious, even though the Jets still scored two plays later.

- Despite that play, White ran the two-minute drill at the end of the first half to perfection. The Jets went 67 yards in eight plays and just 1:36. White was 6 of 7 for 59 yards, with that Cole non-catch being his lone incompletion. Just bouncing back from that disappointment to throw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios two plays later was a nice display of resiliency.

- White’s 11-for-11 start was the longest streak of completions for a player making his first career start since 1978, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

- Crowder had quite a performance in what could’ve been a showcase game for him ahead of the trading deadline on Tuesday. He had eight catches for 84 yards, but he also had a pass bounce off his hands for White’s first interception, and he had a costly fumble at the end of a 26-yard pass late in the second quarter. That only led to a Bengals field goal thanks to yet another goal-line stand by the Jets’ D.

- Another beneficiary of White’s big day: Elijah Moore, who had an impressive six catches for 67 yards. Denzel Mims had only two catches for 30 yards. He also dropped a pass in the end zone, on which he apparently injured his finger.