The hope was Mike White could be that guy for the New York Jets.
Robert Saleh’s team traveled to Indianapolis Thursday night dreaming that perhaps the team’s replacement for injured starting quarterback Zach Wilson could deliver his second consecutive outstanding performance and show he could indeed be Wilson’s replacement.
Like, maybe for a long time.
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New York Jets quarterback Mike White, left, and Michael Carter celebrate after an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
And it started out really well. White, who threw for 405 yards with 3 TD passes in his first NFL start on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, completed 7 of 11 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown in two series this game.
That touchdown pass, a 19-yarder to receiver Elijah Moore, was White’s fifth touchdown in as many quarters.
Wilson, the team’s first-round pick and the No. 2 overall selection in the April draft, has 4 touchdowns in six starts.
The problem is White apparently injured his right forearm on that touchdown throw and lost feeling in his throwing hand to the point that he struggled to grip the football.
“I just kind of felt it almost lock up on me and going to the sideline, my two middle fingers kind of went numb,” White said. “And I couldn’t aggressively grip the ball enough to be out there and help my team.
“So throughout the course of the game, we kept trying things — compression sleeve, heat, all that good stuff — and we tried to throw at halftime and it progressively got better throughout the game.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 31: Mike White #5 of the New York Jets throws the ball during the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium on October 31, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
“It feels better now. But during the course of the game, I just couldn’t get enough effectiveness with my grip and power to be able to help the team.”
That was it for White because by the time his condition improved, Saleh decided not to bring him back.
“By then it was, I think it was toward the middle or late in the fourth quarter, at least that’s what I was told, so it would have been too late to get him back in,” Saleh told reporters after the game.
Although White’s injury is not considered long-term and Saleh said the team feels “good about him getting healthy over the weekend and being ready for next week,” this was not anywhere close to good enough.
The Jets, you see, wanted to accomplish one of two things with White Thursday night.
They wanted to see whether he could follow his amazing debut with another fine outing, which would suggest he’s possibly more than just a backup in the future.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 31: Mike White #5 of the New York Jets celebrates after catching the ball for a two point conversion during the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium on October 31, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Or they wanted to see whether White would struggle and be inconsistent, as many young quarterbacks often are after experiencing some success. That would have made it clear the team needs Wilson back in the lineup as soon as he’s healthy.
But this injury prevented the Jets from getting either answer.
So today, the Jets still don’t know whether White is perpetual backup Willie Beamen in Any Given Sunday or he’s Joe Willie Namath in 1969.
Wilson, who is nursing a sprained PCL, is supposed to miss two to four weeks. He’s already missed two.
“He’s progressing exactly like we thought,” Saleh said. “There’s hope that, like I said, he can at the very least practice next week. And we’ll see how he progresses over the weekend to see if it’s an option to get him on the field.”
Not good enough because this game didn’t provide clarity.
It offered an injury to the backup quarterback but no sense of whether he can be trusted to provide consistency.
So the Jets cannot say they’re going with White so that Wilson can both heal fully and also learn the offense better from a vantage point on the sideline.
That leaves Saleh’s decision on a starter in limbo.
“We’ll see,” the coach said when asked whether Wilson would start if healthy. “We’ll see. Day to day.”
The Jets did get one hint of good news as they were taking this 45-30 loss: Josh Johnson replaced White and threw for 317 yards with 3 TD passes.
And while Johnson is not an option to take New York’s starting job on a permanent basis, like Saleh hinted White might do after the Bengals’ victory, he did provide Wilson with another picture of how the offense could be run.
“That’s part of the beauty of being able to sit back and watch and learn and see the offense being run through the lens of another quarterback,” Saleh said. “Now he’s got two quarterbacks who have been very efficient in the way they run this offense.
“And so for him, we talk about boring, it’s not necessarily boring to take what the defense is giving you.”
Call that a small crack of light coming into the Jets’ dark world following a game that offered precious little good news.
The bad news, meanwhile, is that safety Marcus Maye, the team’s leader in the secondary, suffered an Achilles tendon injury that Saleh said “doesn’t look good” because the team fears Maye is going to be out for the remainder of the season.
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And there was also that defense.
The Jets yielded 532 yards and it was an equal opportunity disaster in which the Colts collected 260 yards rushing and 272 yards passing.
This was the second time in three games the Jets allowed over 500 total yards and they’ve allowed an average of 43.3 points per game the last three games.
“It wasn’t good enough,” Saleh said. “We knew they were going to try to run the ball, especially by the way they’ve been talking all week, trying to get [Jonathan Taylor] going again. They’ve got an unbelievable offensive line and obviously we weren’t up to the task.”