Mike White on return from injury, 'tremendous opportunity' to help Jets reach playoffs

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) throws a pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) throws a pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. / Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jets QB Mike White was cleared by doctors for contact Monday after missing two games due to a rib injury and was named the starter for the rest of the season by head coach Robert Saleh.

The 27-year-old from Western Kentucky University spoke to media Wednesday and expressed his sigh of relief to be allowed to play again.

"It was nice, it was cool," White said. "Long time coming. Just excited to finally be back out there."

White added: "As far as waiting like the couple of weeks, it was tough. To try to stay engaged and enjoy being around your teammates, that helps keep your mind off of it. Like on gamedays it was especially hard. Physically you feel like you can go out there, but understand why the doctors wouldn't clear me. It was tough, but if you make the most out of it you'll be alright."

White explained that he "knew there was a chance at two weeks" for him to get cleared, and was pumped to finally get the news he had been waiting to hear. White was then asked if he'll be wearing any additional protection around his ribs, and assumed that the training staff has something for him, but made it clear he's been comfortable for the past two weeks despite not being cleared by doctors.

"I feel good with what I'm at," White said. "I'm sure the trainers and doctors and equipment staff are playing arts and crafts and putting something together for me. Like I told you guys a couple weeks ago, I felt as if I could play two weeks ago. I still feel the same, I feel good. I'm sure there'll be some extra stuff, but I'm not exactly sure what that'll be."

The Jets lost both games that he was sidelined for, as they currently sit at 7-8, but the team is still in the playoff hunt. White was asked how he feels about the chance to lead New York to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, when the franchise won two games before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

"I think we all have a tremendous opportunity," White said. "Listen, football is the ultimate team sport. It's never going to fall on one person, it's never going to fall on one side of the ball, it's a collective effort. By no means do I think I need to go in there and do anything out of the ordinary. I just need to play my game and help get the playmakers the ball and help this team just try to move the ball and win these last two."

It's a straightforward path to the playoffs for the Jets -- win their final two regular season games on the road against the Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins, and root for the New England Patriots to either lose or tie one of their last two games. Knowing the Jets can't afford to lose, White said he and the team are up for the do-or-die challenge.

"I think every single person in this locker room is a competitor at the highest level," White said. "When you feel as if your backs are against the wall, every competitor is going to welcome that. It's what you grow up wanting. Every kid always is in the backyard, it's always bases loaded, 3-2 count, like, on a two-minute drive you're playing football or playing soccer it's penalty kicks. It's stuff like that, it's when the stakes are the highest. I feel like that's similar to this situation.

"But football, it's a team sport. You never have to feel like you got to do it by yourself. You look to your left and your right, you got guys out there with you that our whole point is to help each other. So that makes it a little easier."

Just because White was named the starter for the rest of the season, and has the opportunity to earn the job for years to come, he still has to remind himself to take everything one day at a time.

"I remember when we first talked and this whole ride started, it was week-to-week, day-to-day, and I got to fall back on that," White said. "Just because we've had, like it's longer in the season, you can't do that. You can't do that to yourself because you won't play well, your mind will race, and I feel like I've said that 15 times but I truly believe it and I'll say it 16 or 17 more times. I think that's the only way to play this game. Especially in this league, it's just a week-to-week basis, things change so fast. You just got to be in the moment, be in the now, and focus on that."

White added: "Yeah I think it's just focusing on the now. If you feel like you find yourself doing that, kind of thinking along, you got to stop yourself right there, buddy. 'Listen, brother, we don't even know what we're having for dinner.' You know what I mean? Like you can't worry about what's going to happen two, three weeks in advance, so enjoy the now. I think if you do start worrying about that stuff, you don't get to enjoy the now. The fun stuff that's happening right now, you're just so worried about something you don't get to enjoy it."

He noted that he fell into thinking about the "what-if" moments last season and has learned from that experience. White said he'll take that with him for the rest of life and believes "that's the only way to have success." Whether or not White will become the Jets answer at QB is yet to be determined, but he's focused on doing what it takes to win now.