Robert Saleh didn’t say it directly. He didn’t need to. He may look emotionally charged on the Jets sidelines, but the second-year head coach is observant, collected and calculated for all but those 60 minutes each Sunday.
That’s a fancy way of saying he’s no dummy. So while, yes, the plan is for Zach Wilson to play again at some point this year, whether or not he does has absolutely nothing to do with Wilson himself.
Mike White is the Jets' quarterback until Mike White — not Zach Wilson — does something to change that.
“We’re going to go week to week,” Saleh said on Monday. “This is Mike White’s opportunity — that doesn’t change.”
Context is needed. The Chicago Bears stink. Actually, that might be putting it lightly. Their secondary is 2021 Jets-level bad. Their run defense and pass rush are equally putrid. What the Jets did to them on Sunday, even with the rain pouring down, was expected. It’s still a good win — the Jets lost plenty of these over the last few years — but this isn’t like New York took down one of the league’s top-tier teams.
That’s why so few Jets decision makers have publicly embraced the same Mike White hysteria as their fans. He turned heads in going 22 of 28 for 315 yards with three touchdowns, a quarterback rating of 149.3 and a QBR of 91.2 (11th best this year) — absolutely. There wasn’t a soul associated with this team who didn’t love every second of it. This just wasn’t enough for them to hand the starting quarterback job to him outright … yet.
That’s the keyword Saleh never said, but shouldn’t have had to: Yet.
The last time White had a game like this was a year ago (almost to the day) against the Cincinnati Bengals. He went 37-for-45 for 405 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in a stunning 34-31 upset victory. As is the case now, his performance sent most of the Metro area into a frenzy. His encore against the Indianapolis Colts started OK (7-for-11, 95 yards, touchdown) until he left with an injury. He crash landed back on earth the next week against the Buffalo Bills.
White threw four interceptions in a blowout loss. The Jets started Joe Flacco the ensuing week against the Miami Dolphins. They then went back to Wilson the next week and for the remainder of the year.
The Jets aren’t just going to name White the starter the rest of the year after one good game against a bad team. There’s absolutely no point in doing that considering what happened last year. There is a chance this game against the Bears was a flash in the pan. The clock, again, could strike midnight. So before the Jets do anything, they want assurances that’s not the case.
You best believe if they get them over these next two weeks, Saleh will stand atop the podium in the press room at One Jets Drive and announce White is the quarterback the remainder of the year.
“We’re going to focus on this one,” Saleh said. “No hypotheticals, but I do appreciate the question.”
The Jets play the Vikings in Minnesota this week. Kirk Cousins and crew are 9-2. Then the Jets travel to Buffalo for a rematch with the Bills (8-3). White will play against the Vikings. It’s almost certain he gets the Bills game, too, no matter what happens against the Vikings.
If White struggles immensely in both games, as he did against the Bills last year, and the Jets lose, then the Jets will likely go back to Wilson against the Detroit Lions on Dec. 18. But if White plays well against two of the better teams in the NFL? If he leads the Jets to a victory in one and keeps it within a score in the other? If he brings out the broom in a sweep?
You can already hear Saleh now.
We believe in Zach Wilson. We do. This is not an indictment of his play or his future with this organization. But with the way Mike is playing, we owe it to him to stick with him the remainder of the year. This is a great problem to have. We have two great quarterbacks on our roster.
The Jets truly had every intention of going back to Wilson at some point this year when they made the switch to White. They still do, but the moment they gave his job to White there became nothing Wilson could do himself to get it back. He can fix all his problems in practice. He can look excellent running the scout team. It truly does not matter. White will continue to play as long as he continues to play well and the Jets continue to win.
And, in doing that, there will come a point where this becomes his team for this year. Where he won’t have to live game-to-game. Saleh will tell him they’re sticking with him through the good and the bad.
There’s a very small contingent of people over at One Jets Drive who care about getting Wilson back on the field no matter what: The men who drafted him, and Wilson himself. The only thing the coaches, and every other player other than Wilson, care about is winning. The coaches need the players to win, and the players rely on the coaches to put them in the best position to win. Controversy and separation occurs the moment one of those two parties feels the other isn’t doing their part.
White is already among the most loved players tucked inside New York’s locker room. Players described him to SNY as one of the most “genuine” and “real” guys on the team – a guy’s guy. Talk to White 1-on-1 and you come away believing the only thing he cares about is how he can help you — and it’s not an act or inauthetinc. That type of personality resonates throughout a building. It brings guys together. People gravitate towards men like that.
“Everyone loves Mike,” Saleh said.
And when you combine that infatuation with the type of performance White delivered against the Bears? Then you repeat it all against stiffer competition in Minnesota and Buffalo? Players do not give a damn who was drafted where — they will look at White as their quarterback.
Saleh has a strong relationship with common sense. Rocking that boat would have him meeting the same fate as Jack Sparrow during his first reign on the Black Pearl. Rest assured: He’d do what is best for the team — not one guy. He will name White the quarterback the rest of the season.
But, as the coach said Monday, he doesn’t want to deal in hypotheticals. And he shouldn’t. Things look great now. We’ll see if that’s still the case when the Jets walk out of Highmark Stadium.
If they are?
Here’s the cool thing about plans: They can change.