When the New York Jets needed one yard with two minutes left to secure a stunning 34-31 upset over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the football stayed in Mike White’s hands. It had to. White’s successful quarterback sneak was the perfect ending to a game that showcased how nothing in the NFL is certain.
Two weeks ago, very few people outside of the Jets universe had even heard of White – quite frankly, I kept envisioning the former Raiders head coach. White erased any confusion over his identity with a brilliant performance, especially as far as Jets quarterbacks go. His 405 passing yards were the most by a Jets quarterback in 327 games. That dates back to the year 2000. His 37 completions (out of 45 attempts) are an NFL record for a player in his first start. White also tied Cam Newton as the only player to top 400 passing yards in his first start.
White also magically brought the Jets back from a 10-point deficit on two separate occasions, including during the fourth quarter. And executed a Philly Special two-point conversion to give the Jets the late, decisive three-point lead.
The fairytale of a player like White coming out of nowhere is why, despite its many troubles, the NFL continues to draw us in. White was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. He lost a battle for the backup job behind Dak Prescott and was waived in 2019 when the team decided to carry just two quarterbacks. Then the Jets swooped in and signed White, though it’s been a rocky relationship. Since 2019, White has been cut four times, and signed and waived and re-signed and moved to the active roster 11 times.
White’s performance led to the home fans at MetLife chanting his name. For now, the 26-year-old should enjoy the adulation – because the NFL has only a few examples of quarterbacks emerging from obscurity to sustained success. Kurt Warner famously quit football and stocked shelves at a grocery store when he was waived by the Packers ahead of what would be a Hall of Fame career. But what makes Warner’s story so compelling is that it is the exception rather than the rule.
Whatever White’s long-term merits turn out to be, the fact that he beat a team that were competing for the AFC No 1 seed heading into the weekend raises a serious question. How can the Jets go back to Zach Wilson, currently sidelined by injury? The Jets, of course, drafted Wilson as the No 2 overall pick this spring with the idea that he would be their quarterback of the future (and the present). While it’s still very early in Wilson’s career, it’s safe to say no one in Canton is thinking about fitting him for a gold jacket any time soon: he currently sits 32 out of 33 eligible quarterbacks in ESPN’s QBR rankings.
Jets head coach Robert Saleh told reporters after the game that White will start for the Jets against the Colts on Thursday night. More telling, when asked if White could be the long-term solution at quarterback, Saleh replied “anything is possible.”
Perhaps Saleh was merely caught up in the revelry after a resounding win and will need to backtrack for the sake of Wilson’s psyche. Or maybe White really did make the first step to winning the starter’s job on Sunday. Because, as he showed us, anything is possible in this league.
MVP of the week
Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams. Stafford continues to thrive under center on a Rams team overflowing with weapons and strong coaching. In Sunday’s 38-22 win over the Texans (which was much more of a blowout than the final score suggests), Stafford was nearly flawless with 305 yards and three passing touchdowns (without playing in the fourth quarter). It’s not just the great system Stafford entered, it’s his command of a complicated offense and his elite ability to read defenses. Exhibit A: By the end of the first quarter, Stafford had already surpassed Jared Goff’s touchdown total for the Rams last season.
Video of the week
Best Broncos pass of the season? Peyton Manning, who was inducted in the Broncos Ring of Honor on Sunday, showed he still has some life left in that arm after all.
Stat of the week
This week it was revealed that Dallas Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb has been fined by the NFL a whopping FIVE times in six games this season. That might lead you to conclude that Lamb has serious behavioral issues. But Lamb’s egregious crimes include:
Having his jersey untucked ($5,510 v the Eagles; $15,450 v the Panthers).
Failing to have his socks cover his lower leg ($5,510 v the Bucs in the season opener).
Waving after his game-winning touchdown ($10,300 v the Patriots).
Lamb was also fined for an illegal crackback block which, OK, is a fair penalty. But everything else? The NFL is loaded with examples of greed, but none may be more so than its list of fines. The pettiness of the league’s attempts to strip players of their individuality has been known for a while but seeing it manifest in fines like Lamb’s is a reminder of the ickiness.
Quote of the week
“I need to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental wellbeing” – Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
Ridley’s heartfelt explanation of his absence is the latest in a string of athletes being open about their mental health struggles. Just before Ridley released this statement, the NFL on Fox aired a riveting segment with Eagles tackle Lane Johnson about what it’s like to live with anxiety and depression. The more we see athletes as humans, the better.
Elsewhere around the league
— Trevor Siemian’s Saints beat Tom Brady’s Buccaneers 36-27. Let that simmer for a moment. Siemian hadn’t played since 2019. He beat Brady – Tom Freaking Brady – who has played almost nonstop for around 472 years. In fairness Siemian, who entered the game in the second quarter when Jameis Winston was injured, wasn’t as critical to the Saints’ win as Mike White was for the Jets. But he played well enough in a tough situation, with 159 passing yards and a touchdown. It was the Bucs and Brady who shot themselves in the foot throughout. They committed 11 penalties (to the Saints’ two) including a taunting call on Devin White on third-down deep in the final quarter that kept the Saints alive and led to a go-ahead field goal. For his part, Brady lost a fumble and threw two interceptions, including a pick six that sealed the game for New Orleans.
— Back to that Winston injury. It sounds like he could be out for a while. “I cried when I saw him coming in,” said Saints head coach Sean Payton. “It’s hard.” The injury came after a horse-collar tackle from former teammate Devin White. “I hate that this happened to you, man,” White told Winston after the injury. “Because you’re playing good ball and just praying for you.”
— More backup quarterback heroics in Minnesota. Where Cooper Rush stepped in for the injured Dak Prescott and led the Dallas Cowboys to victory over the Vikings. Rush threw for 325 yards and led an impressive touchdown drive late in the game to secure a 20-16 victory. The Cowboys are now 6-1 this season and firmly in control of the NFC East.
— Both San Francisco and Chicago entered Sunday with major questions at quarterback. The 49ers won 33-22, which doesn’t greatly matter since neither of these teams are shaping up as playoff contenders. But both Jimmy Garoppolo and Justin Fields gave performances that should plese each fanbase. Garoppolo was efficient, decisive, and accurate. He ended the day with a very clean 322 passing yards (171 of which were to Deebo Samuel) and no turnovers. Even in a loss, this game may have been more monumental for Fields, who finally showed us his dynamic playmaking skills. Entering Sunday, the Bears had only designed eight run plays for Fields. Against San Francisco, Fields was let loose. He rushed for 103 yards and a score (on top of 175 passing yards). And in what felt like his true welcome to the NFL moment, Fields showcased his athleticism and instincts on an incredible touchdown run.
— It was another tough day for anyone trying to understand the roughing the passer rule. Every week, without exception, there are flags thrown on questionable calls. A defender rolling over a quarterback to avoid his head. Or giving him a light shove to avoid deeper contact. Sunday saw some of the inverse, the non-calls. There was a very late hit on Mac Jones that was allowed to fly. More egregiously, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell, who had become a passer on a fake field-goal, was demolished by Browns DE Jordan Elliott on a clear roughing the passer that went unpenalized. Boswell had to go to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion. Let’s please get some consistency.
— Jaguars head coach (for now) Urban Meyer really said: “I didn’t see that coming,” after one of the biggest coaching shitshows you’ll ever see in the NFL. Among the highlights of the Jags’ 31-7 loss to the Seahawks were consecutive penalties for 12 men of the field. And when his team finally scored with less than two minutes remaining, Meyer kicked an extra point that was followed by an onside kick. Does he want to win or not?