When the Jets last left MetLife Stadium, chants of “Mike White, Mike White, Mike White’’ from euphoric fans echoed through the building.
The words “euphoric’’ and “Jets fans’’ have not shared the same sentence very often for the past 10-plus years. That’s what a playoff drought of more than a decade will do. That’s what also happens when the team has its fourth head coach or fourth general manager within that period.
But two Sundays ago at the Meadowlands, all of that negativity was forgotten for three glorious hours as a Cinderella story unfolded before the disbelieving eyes of Jets fans, who haven’t had many Sundays walking back to their cars feeling the kind of breathless buzz that White created for them.
White was injured and White played in White’s place. The cheers from the delirious fans made it a beautiful moment. Zach Wilson, the second-overall draft pick Zach Wilson, was successful in throwing for 405 yards during a 34-3 win over the Bengals.
White has had a rollercoaster ride. He appeared to be on his way to yet another great performance in Indianapolis nine days ago when he sustained a forearm injury. This forced him to quit a game tied at 7-7 after the first quarter.
Wilson’s right knee still is not fully healed and White’s forearm is healed (not to mention White’s past five quarters of football having looked a lot like Tom Brady performances), so White will start against the Bills (5-3) on Sunday at MetLife in yet another game the Jets aren’t supposed to win (they’re 12-point underdogs).
The Jets weren’t supposed beat the Bengals, either. They entered that game as 11.5-point ’dogs. That, of course, didn’t matter to White, who dissected the Cincinnati defense with the poise and precision of a 12-year veteran, not a guy making his first NFL start.
White and Jets have to create the same festive mood they had two weeks back. It’s a tough task considering that the Bills are the number one defense in the NFL. The NFL’s No. 1 defense.
Every Jets fan is curious about whether this White thing is a flash in the pan or will be sustainable — with visions that their team might actually have two franchise quarterback candidates instead of the one they hope Wilson will become with some more seasoning.
“He’s come in and done a great job and you want him to keep it rolling,’’ guard Greg Van Roten said after practice Friday. “You want to see it continue, because we’re playing well and we want to win some games.’’
MetLife Stadium is 2-1 for the Jets. Their other victory was against the Titans who are No. They were the 1st-ranked AFC team at the time that they played the Jets.
Can Mike White Mania keep going?
No one truly knows, but that question will make Sunday’s game a hell of a lot more compelling to watch than if it were simply between any old 2-6 team playing a 5-3 division leader.
Jets fans are curious and, while no one will admit it, there has to be a similar curiosity inside the team’s building — from ownership to general manager Joe Douglas to head coach Robert Saleh to the locker room.
In the previous two games, they scored 34 points, with 511 and 30 yards, respectively. This was after the Jets had only averaged 13.3 points per game and just 277 yards offense over their first four games without Wilson as quarterback.
“I think we’re coming together as an offense,’’ Van Roten said. “And you can see that.’’
White, who has been the catalyst to that “coming together,’’ spoke Thursday of how his teammates are still playfully chanting his name when he walks into the locker room.
When Saleh was asked whether he thinks the Jets are doing that because they “love him or respect the hell out of him,’’ he said: “Probably both. I think they’d feel that way even if he didn’t play, because everyone loves Mike, even from training camp and OTAs. I don’t think any of that has changed.’’
What has changed is the tenor of the Jets’ season since White stepped in. If he’s able to keep the mojo going Sunday, he will have presented a quarterback dilemma Saleh would welcome.
“Our goal as coaches is to make [general manager] Joe D’s job as hard as possible,’’ Saleh said. “If Mike does a great job and makes Joe’s job harder, then we did our job.’’