EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On Saturday night, in a final piece of advice to his new starting quarterback, New York Jets coach Robert Saleh told Mike White to be himself and not to worry about doing something extraordinary in his season debut.
“We didn’t need to turn into The Greatest Show on Turf,” Saleh told reporters Sunday.
As it turned out, White delivered a performance worthy of the turn-of-the-century St. Louis Rams, passing for three touchdowns and 315 yards in the Jets’ 31-10 victory over the Chicago Bears in a steady rain at MetLife Stadium.
Replacing the demoted Zach Wilson, who watched from the sideline as the third/inactive quarterback, White completed his first five attempts and never lost his rhythm. He parted the raindrops, completing 22 of 28 passes and connecting with 10 different receivers in one of the best passing performances in franchise history.
It was a much-needed spark for the Jets (7-4), who endured a tension-filled week that included a dismal offensive performance in a last-second loss to the New England Patriots and the eventual benching of Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2021. By the end of the soggy day, the crowd was chanting, “Mike White! Mike White!”
“It’s always cool,” White said of hearing his name in the stadium. “I’m not going to sit here and give you some quarterback cliché that I’m not focusing on that, which there are times I’m not.”
With a smile, he added, “I think it would be a lot cooler if they didn’t do it when we were trying to snap the ball, but I’m not going to complain too much.”
White is the first quarterback in NFL history to have multiple games with at least a 75% completion rate, 300 passing yards and three touchdowns within his first four career starts. He did it last season in Week 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals in his first career start.
Only one other quarterback in Jets history has reached those thresholds in more than one game — Ken O’Brien, who did it four times during his Jets career from 1983 to 1992.
White already has two 300-yard passing days; Wilson has only one in 20 starts. Clearly, the offense functions better with White, who delivers the ball quickly and accurately.
“He made the easy look easy,” said Saleh, calling White “the master of the obvious.”
When he made the quarterback change Wednesday, Saleh said he intends to get Wilson back on the field this season. That will be difficult to do as long as the Jets remain in the thick of the playoff race.
“Electric,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said of White’s performance.
“Helluva game, man,” tackle Duane Brown said. “He commanded the offense really well. Made timely decisions, made some big plays at some critical moments. Great poise. Great day for him.”
White completed passes to 10 of the 11 skill players that were active for the game, which was great for team morale. Wide receiver Elijah Moore, a non-factor with Wilson at quarterback, enjoyed his most productive game with two catches for 64 yards and his first touchdown.
Moore, so disgruntled early in the year that he requested a trade, was ebullient after the game.
“I’m just grateful I get to stand up here today and be the person who I know I am, and contribute to a winning game,” Moore said.
Having some fun, Moore said he talked to a football before the game, saying, “I missed [the ball]. I was talking to the ball, and I was like, ‘You already know how I feel about you.’ I was kissing her, and I was telling her it’s going to be soon, it’s going to happen soon. She told me she loved me, and she wanted to get back.”
Fellow receiver Garrett Wilson caught five passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns, including a 54-yard score. He was outspoken after last week’s loss, as he harshly criticized the offense.
“There are some things I probably shouldn’t have said, and I wish I could have back, but I’m emotional and we weren’t playing up to our standard,” he said. “When that happens, I hold myself accountable. I just wanted to see a change and that’s what came out of me.”
The poor offensive showing last week, coupled with Wilson’s refusal to accept accountability after throwing for a career-low 77 yards, caused some grumbling among defensive players. It increased the pressure on White, but he responded quickly and decisively.
The Jets went nine plays, 75 yards to start the game, ending with their first opening-drive touchdown of the season. It was a stress reliever.
“I think it was just good for not only the offense, but the team, too,” White said. “It was a good way to respond to the week we had, and it got everybody’s confidence going.”
Garrett Wilson added, “It felt like we got something off our chest, and we took the pressure off our defense.”
Soon the stadium was chanting White’s name. Tight end Tyler Conklin joked that White is “the king of New York.” He added, “That’s a dream come true, being in the NFL and hearing them chant your name.”