New York Jets coach Robert Saleh sounded as if he did not want to make too big of a deal of the nice things he saw Sunday from Mike White, the quarterback whom Saleh tapped last week to step in for the struggling Zach Wilson, who was drafted last year to be the team’s latest savior.
At one point in his postgame news conference, Saleh said of White: “He’ll make good decisions with the football, and he’ll make them quick.” Then he added: “Just my take on it.”
Of course, others in the franchise will have a take on what White meant to the Jets in their impressive 31-10 victory over the Chicago Bears. He passed for 315 yards and three touchdowns in the win, which pushed the Jets’ record to 7-4 and kept them in the race for a playoff spot.
Others in the franchise will have a take on what to do about Wilson, who threw four touchdown passes (with five interceptions) in seven games – including a wretched 10-3 loss on 20 November to the New England Patriots, in which the Jets gained two yards (or 2.8 inches per play) in the second half.
Wilson is the second quarterback whom the Jets picked in the top five of the draft in the last four years; the first, Sam Darnold, was not so hot, either, and was traded to Carolina. (Darnold stepped in Sunday and did well in the Panthers’ 23-10 victory over Denver.)
Saleh said last week that Wilson would benefit from taking a step back so he could refocus. But what if White is the answer for the Jets – or at least a better answer than Wilson? The 27-year-old White, who played at Western Kentucky and was drafted in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, was so accurate Sunday that Saleh will look silly if he benches him.
And so the Jets find themselves in the middle of a budding and genuine New York Quarterback Controversy. It would have been a lot worse had White stank Sunday, but White has emerged, even though Wilson had the pedigree coming out of Brigham Young.
White drove the Jets 75 yards on nine plays for a touchdown on their first possession against the Bears, throwing the first of two touchdown passes Sunday to Garrett Wilson. By halftime, the Jets had a 17-10 lead, and White had 235 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Later in the game, Jets fans started a “Mike White!” chant – which White said he probably would have appreciated more had he not been so focused on calling out the signals. He started three games while Wilson was hurt last year, beating the Super-bound Bengals.
The Jets essentially needed White to keep things under control while their running game hammered out yards, and their stellar defense suffocated opponents. The Jets gained 158 yards rushing and held the Justin Fields-less Bears at bay, but White was the star.
After announcing Wilson’s benching last week, Saleh claimed, “Zach’s career here is not over,” adding that he fully intended to get him back on the field this season. But the Jets have a genuine chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Coaches tend to roll with the hot QB, or they find themselves out of a job. So Wilson should stay on the bench, at least for now. Moreover, Saleh said of White: “I don’t think there’s a guy in that locker room who didn’t think he’d be able to perform that way today.”
The Vikings are the opponents next week, followed by the Buffalo Bills. It is hard to see Wilson returning soon, given the Jets are finally playing for something in December. Whether he will be another busted high Jets’ draft pick can be decided much later.
MVP of the week
Josh Jacobs, running back, Las Vegas Raiders. Jacobs set a franchise record Sunday by rushing for 229 yards, the last 86 of which came on a Bo Jackson-like touchdown bolt through the middle of the Seattle defense that won the game in overtime, 40-34. Jacobs, in his fourth NFL season, had previously never had a touchdown run longer than 28 yards.
Jacobs scored two touchdowns and also caught six passes for 74 yards to finish with 303 yards, the seventh-most in an NFL game in the Super Bowl era. Las Vegas (4-7), who have won two straight, tied the game with less than two minutes in regulation on a five-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to Foster Moreau. Jacobs may well have helped save Josh McDaniels’ job.
Video of the week
With great pomp, the Washington Commanders pulled back a red curtain to unveil a memorial Sunday to Sean Taylor, the superb safety who was killed in a home invasion 15 years ago. The Commanders never promised a marble or even bronze statue of Taylor, but what was uncovered at the ceremony looked … a lot like a mannequin.
Dan Snyder’s franchise had botched yet another public-relations opportunity.
“I get this wasn’t supposed to be a statue, but this looks like a display you’d see in a Nike store,” the writer Jemele Hill tweeted. “Nothing memorable about it. Looks like no thought or care was put into preserving the legacy of one of their most impactful and beloved players.”
Even worse, the team forgot the 40 or 50 thin strips of tape Taylor wrapped around his facemask to make him look even more ferocious. Will Blackmon, a retired defensive back who played the last two seasons of his 10-year NFL career in Washington, pointed out on Twitter that the glass-encased memorial to Taylor had a Nike jersey, Reebok pants and Adidas shoes.
“Looks like a last-minute project to me,” Blackmon tweeted.
Stat of the week
5-0. That’s Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s record since he returned from a frightening concussion sustained in a September loss to Cincinnati that had a lot of people fearing for his future. On Sunday, he ran his record as a starter to 8-1 this year by throwing for 299 yards and a touchdown in a 30-15 victory over the hapless Houston Texans. His QBR rating of 82.5 this season is the fifth-best since the rankings began in 2006, behind only Tom Brady (2007), Peyton Manning (2006), Aaron Rodgers (2011) and Lamar Jackson (2019).
Quote of the week
“This is the kind of game that great teams win” – Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow after the Bengals beat the Tennessee Titans, 20-16.
The Bengals, a Super Bowl team last year, are only 7-4 and not exactly a great team at the moment, but they beat the Titans without running back Joe Mixon (concussion) and Ja’Marr Chase (hip). Cincinnati started 2-3, but Sunday’s victory was their third straight and their fifth in the last six games. They are tied with the Baltimore Ravens for first place in the AFC North.
Elsewhere around the league
-- Much has been made of the San Francisco 49ers offense, with Jimmy Garoppolo having weapons such as Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle at his disposal. But on Sunday their defense shut out New Orleans in a 13-0 win, the first time the Saints have failed to score in nearly 21 years. The Niners have now won four straight, are top of the NFC West at 7-4 and are coming into form as the playoffs hove into view.
-- Aaron Rodgers left Green Bay’s 40-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles with an oblique injury in a game that saw the Packers’ playoff hopes all but disappear. The good news for Green Bay? His replacement, Jordan Love, looked a much better player than he has in previous seasons, showing impressive arm strength and accuracy. He threw a touchdown on his first drive and then led Green Bay to a field-goal on the second. Jalen Hurts was brilliant (again), by the way. He threw two touchdowns and ran for 157 yards as Philly moved to 10-1.
-- Sean McVay, the coach of a Los Angeles Rams team that won the Super Bowl less than 10 months ago, took two on the chin, one literally and one figuratively, in a 26-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that dropped the Rams to 3-8. The Rams’ Matthew Stafford missed the big QB matchup against Patrick Mahomes with a concussion – forcing McVay to use third-teamer Bryce Perkins, who threw for a mere 100 yards.
While walking down the sidelines early in the game, McVay was clobbered on the chin by Roger Carter Jr as he ran onto the field. Clearly stunned, McVay opted to stay on the sideline, rubbing his jaw.
-- One thing that Tom Brady has never done in his NFL career is to lead a team with a losing record into the playoffs. This could be that year. His Tampa Bay Buccaneers slumped to 5-6 after a 23-17 overtime loss in the rain to the Cleveland Browns, but the Bucs remained in first place in the awful NFC South because the Atlanta Falcons (5-7) blew it against Washington. Marcus Mariota was marching the Falcons to what would have been a stirring victory, but his tipped pass on second-and-goal from the Washington four-yard line was intercepted by the Commanders with 58 seconds to go. Aided by a careless running-into-the-punter penalty, Washington, in last place in the NFC East at 7-5, ran out the clock on a 19-13 victory.
-- The mascot for the Jacksonville Jaguars is a cat figure by the name of Jaxson DeVille. Like most sports mascots, he has one of those big furry fake heads and wears a version of the team’s uniform. Well, Sunday was different. The temperature spiked after thunderstorms in Jacksonville, and he wore his head and shoes – and just a Speedo with stars and stripes. He caused an online stir, immediately labeled as a “Full Florida Man,” who “has no shame.” Rodger Sherman of the Ringer pointed out on Twitter, “The fact that Jaguars mascot Jaxson De Ville still feels the need to wear underwear when otherwise nude implies that he has genitalia which must be covered in public.” And the Jaguars won the game on a last-minute two-point conversion as Trevor Lawrence enjoyed maybe his best game in the NFL. The tactic must have been catching – later on Sunday, the Los Angeles Chargers opted to go for two in the final seconds instead of settling for overtime as they beat the Arizona Cardinals 25-24.