NEW YORK (AP) — Not even the most optimistic New York Jets fans could have predicted Mike White having the game of a lifetime — in his first NFL start.
He threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns and caught a 2-point conversion pass in a 34-31 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday in place of an injured Zach Wilson.
"That was a moment to remember — for him, for the fans, for our football team,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said Monday.
White had the fans chanting his name at MetLife Stadium, and he said he had more than 300 texts, including several from Wilson — who was so excited he was texting during the game and was the first to greet him in the tunnel after the win.
“He honestly might've been more juiced up than me,” said White, who joined Carolina's Cam Newton (2011) as the only players since at least 1950 to throw for 400 yards in their first NFL starts.
If White can continue to play at a high level, Wilson might continue to sit a bit longer than everyone expected.
“The focus is on this moment," coach Robert Saleh said. "Zach getting healthy is always at the forefront of our mind, but it’s a hypothetical — just take the days as they come.”
It's only one game, of course, and Wilson remains the future as the No. 2 overall pick in April. But White could be the quarterback of the present, at the very least. And there's a simple reason for that: execution.
The knock on Wilson, who's out a least another week with a sprained knee ligament, is that he isn't consistently making the so-called “easy” plays — the short throws that keep the chains moving. First-year offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has taken a lot of criticism for some suspect playcalling, but Wilson also didn't do a good enough job of taking what the defenses were giving him and getting the ball out of his hands quickly.
And that's where White excelled Sunday.
His 37 pass completions were the most by an NFL quarterback in his first start. Incredibly, none went for more than 26 yards. White, who had two interceptions on tipped passes, said the Bengals were playing a lot more zone defense, and the Jets took advantage.
“We did a great job of not pressing," he said, "and letting the plays come to us.”
It provided a blueprint for success. After all, the Jets even scored in the first quarter — the first time this season — and on their opening drive, no less.
Short and sweet. Efficient and effective. And completely stunning.
“Being able to watch him do that was special," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "Hearing the crowd say his name, that was something that we’ll never forget.”
It seems strange to say, but just about everything worked Sunday.
The Jets moved the ball consistently and scored in the opening quarter. The defense made stops, got its first interception and put pressure on the quarterback. One somewhat overshadowed decision was LaFleur moving into the booth after calling the offense from the sideline in the first five games. Saleh said Wilson preferred LaFleur near him on the sideline to communicate, while White said it wasn't necessary for him. If LaFleur felt more comfortable having a bird's-eye view, that could be a permanent move — especially based on Sunday's results.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
A sense of reality for some fans. Yes, what White did was stunning and fun, but to suddenly wonder if he's the quarterback of the future is premature. It was just one game, and many casual fans hadn't even heard of him until this time last week. White will get a chance to eventually force the conversation if he continues to play well, starting Thursday night at Indianapolis.
Michael Carter. The rookie running back played a crucial and somewhat overshadowed role in keeping the offense moving. The fourth-round pick out of North Carolina caught nine passes for 95 yards out of the backfield and ran for 77 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. His 172 yards from scrimmage were the third-most by a Jets rookie since the merger.
Matt Ammendola. The rookie kicker made two 24-yard field goals, but was wide left on a 54-yard attempt after missing a 48-yarder at New England last week. The Jets will need the big-legged Ammendola to show some consistency, especially on long kicks.
Saleh wouldn't rule out LT George Fant, who injured an ankle Sunday, or WR Corey Davis, who missed the game with a hip injury, for Thursday night.
32 — First downs the Jets had against the Bengals, tied for third-most in franchise history and the most since a team-record 39 in a 38-34 win over Miami on Nov. 27, 1988.
As bad as the Jets looked in a 54-13 loss at New England last week, they looked like a powerhouse Sunday. Mosley said it's on the Jets to now be more like the team everyone saw against Cincinnati.
“It wasn’t a fluke, it wasn’t fake. That was real," Mosley said. "Once we believe and keep believing and keep fighting, that’s really when things are going to change.”
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL