MINNEAPOLIS — Mike White was likely one dropped touchdown pass away from being the Jets’ starting quarterback for the rest of the season, no questions asked. It might be a bit harsh calling what Braxton Berrios did, or didn’t do, against the Vikings a drop, but those are the unforgiving rules of every given Sunday.
If you get your hands on the ball, you need to catch it. Especially in the end zone, on the road, in the final minutes of a high-stakes game.
“That’s on me,” Berrios said.
White tried to take the blame for throwing the fourth-down pass a little behind his receiver, and credited Berrios for breaking the designed route to the outside and finding the soft underbelly of the defense on the inside. That’s what a leader does. That’s what a starting quarterback does.
So when it was time to assess the Jets’ fatal flaws in the red zone that gave the Vikings a 27-22 victory, White understood that his job — Zach Wilson’s old job — required him to grab a mirror ASAP.
“It starts with me,” he said. “You’ve got to figure out how to put the ball in the end zone, and if we can do that I think we win the game today.”
A week after throwing three touchdown passes in a beatdown of the Bears, White found himself in the loud and hostile home of an entirely different brand of NFC North opponent. The Vikings entered the matchup 9-2 for a reason, and the visiting 27-year-old quarterback found out the hard way.
White threw for 369 yards, but couldn’t deliver any touchdown passes. He did find the end zone on a fourth-and-goal run that was ruled a score on review, but failed to finish on either of two late, frantic drives that could’ve elevated his team’s record to 8-4.
But even in defeat, and even after throwing two interceptions (though both under extenuating circumstances), White only solidified his standing as the undisputed starter, and strengthened his bond with his teammates. Just listen to Garrett Wilson, a potential superstar in the making, who had this to say after catching eight passes for 162 yards, including a 60-yarder that nearly changed everything:
“That boy’s a dog, man. That boy’s a dog for real. He was out there controlling the huddle and … never letting the moment get too big. It was cool to see. … I know that I’d go to war for that boy. He’s got something special about him.”
That’s why some players boarded the Jets’ plane Saturday wearing “Mike F’n White” T-shirts. That’s why some players walked into U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday wearing “Mighty Ducks” jersey, with White himself dressed up in a “Ducks” Charlie Conway captain’s jersey.
Head coach Robert Saleh has to see what is happening here. Nobody wants his quarterback forced to throw 57 passes by some uninspired play, some damaging penalties, and a 17-point deficit late in the first half. But facts are facts:
White has now cleared 300 yards in three of his five starts, and probably would’ve made that four out of five had he avoided an early injury in last year’s Colts game. Wilson has cleared 300 yards only once in 20 starts. The game just looked harder to everyone in green when Wilson was on the field.
“I thought Mike did a great job,” Saleh said. “There was a little bit of some ups and downs like you normally would [have] in a football game; they’re a good football team. But I thought he kept his composure, stayed within the game, and he made some big throws.”
White never quit on the outcome, somehow scoring on that fourth-and-goal run to cut the deficit to five points. After getting blasted on a third-down incompletion on the next drive, White fired a brilliant fourth-and-10 strike to Corey Davis for 31 yards. Given one final opportunity by the Jets’ defense after the Berrios drop, White impressed his teammates with his poise.
“Just him being in the huddle that last drive,” said Garrett Wilson, who didn’t want to reveal his quarterback’s message. “It’s not exactly what he said, but the way he said it. It didn’t seem like he was stressed out by the situation. He doesn’t seem like he’s worried or that it’s on his mind. He feels like we’re going to go out there and make those plays.
“Man, it was fun to be out there to play with him today, to see how he went about his business. I’m just sorry we couldn’t get it done for him.”
On fourth down in the final seconds, White had no choice but to let it rip down the middle. “I didn’t want to finish with the ball in my hands,” he explained after Minnesota’s clinching interception. So be it.
Saleh gave White a fist bump as the two passed each other in the postgame interview room. As much as the coach wants to fix Zach Wilson, all White did Sunday was make that process a little more irrelevant.