This past Sunday featured one of the most surprising results of the 2021 season. Mike White, a fourth-year pro making his first career NFL start for the Jets, dialed up an improbable comeback win over the Bengals, who had entered the week as the top seed in the AFC. White, who’s filling in for injured rookie Zach Wilson, stumbled out of the gates with two picks but played lights-out the rest of the way, completing 25 of 31 pass attempts for 306 pass yards, three TDs and a 140.1 passer rating over the final three quarters.
“White Lightning” or “Jersey Mike” — I haven’t quite decided which nickname to go with — didn’t just impress me with his 405-yard performance. Jets head coach Robert Saleh was equally wowed and immediately named White the starter for Thursday night’s game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“Mike is fantastic,” Saleh said. “He’s poised — he’s showed it all throughout camp, all throughout OTAs, that he deserves to be one of those guys, and obviously he showed it today.”
Wilson, whom the Jets took with the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft, suffered a minor PCL sprain in Week 7. His return could come as early as Week 10. Prior to the injury, Wilson flashed his arm talent but struggled to find any sort of consistency from game to game — or even drive to drive, at times — posting a 57.5 completion percentage, 1,168 pass yards, four passing touchdowns, nine interceptions and two fumbles in six games. This begs an obvious question …
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When Wilson is ready to play, should the Jets immediately turn back to him? Or stick with the hot hand in White, a fifth-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2018?
It’s obviously way premature to declare White the long-term answer for New York at the quarterback position. However, it was interesting to see Saleh’s response to a postgame question about whether White could become The Guy: “We’ll take it day to day, but anything’s possible.” And there could be a real QB controversy if White plays well in a prime-time spotlight against the Colts. This possibility could leave Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco as a complete afterthought less than two weeks after New York acquired him via trade.
I will say, dealing with quarterbacks is tough. It’s not like baseball, where you can pull a starter after two innings if he’s having a rough night. Sitting a starting QB does something psychological to the player, because he was brought in to be the leader and typically is the leader. That said, White handled being thrust into the starting position extremely well. I saw a lot of encouraging things from White on Sunday. He had good footwork, great vision and manipulated the Bengals’ top-10 defense. Even though it was his first start, White looked prepared. Clearly, he’s been putting in the work in meeting rooms and studying film, awaiting his opportunity. He has a presence and command of the locker room that was apparent throughout the game and in the postgame. This is a testament to White’s four years of professional experience, even though he hadn’t thrown a regular-season pass before this season. He was ready to meet the moment.
As a rookie in 2002 with the Houston Texans, I walked into the league and was given the QB1 job as the No. 1 overall pick. And because of that, I didn’t necessarily have an appreciation for the starting job. Every Sunday, I thought I could win the game by myself because of my natural talent, but the NFL isn’t like college. You can’t just make some wow throws and run around guys — a lesson Wilson is now learning.
To put it simply, you don’t always have to be Batman. Sometimes you should be Bruce Wayne, relying on other parts of the team to win.
Looking back now, I wish I hadn’t been the starter right from the jump. I wish I had the luxury of seeing a veteran go through a week of preparation and make in-game adjustments, just to watch a more experienced player’s process.
There’s no question Wilson is more physically gifted than White — it’s not even close — but the latter’s experience and belief in his ability to deliver is what this young, rebuilding Jets team needs right now. Playing White would allow the rookie to fully heal and learn from a journeyman. So for now, the Jets should stay the course with White.
Here are two other quarterback scenarios to track as we head into Week 9 …
A flat effort from Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ offense led to a critical loss to division-rival Pittsburgh, solidifying Cleveland’s place in the basement of the AFC North. Mayfield played through a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder after missing Week 7. He’s said there has been no discussion about whether he should shut down for the season and that surgery is no certainty. However, I know from experience that any injury will most likely affect your release and accuracy — no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise. With that in mind, I don’t think Mayfield should be playing right now. And if I’m being completely honest, he doesn’t transcend Kevin Stefanski’s offense, nor does he go above and beyond the Xs and Os when he is healthy.
Case Keenum, on the other hand, has been in this system for years. Don’t forget: He led Minnesota deep in the playoffs back in 2017 with Stefanski as the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach. In Keenum’s lone start this season, a Week 7 victory over Denver, he put together a steady performance — and especially thrived in play-action, completing 10 of 13 pass attempts for 129 yards, a touchdown and a 133.2 passer rating. Keenum can absolutely lead the Browns to success — and back into a wild-card spot — by leaning on a run game that just got back Nick Chubb and should have Kareem Hunt in a few weeks.
If Baker’s not 100 percent, he shouldn’t be out there.
With Jameis Winston out for the season, the Saints should turn to journeyman Trevor Siemian as their starting quarterback going forward. It shouldn’t be Taysom Hill, who’s been inactive since suffering a concussion in Week 5, even when he’s healthy. The beauty of Hill’s game is that he’s the ultimate Swiss Army Knife for Sean Payton, a playmaker who can serve as a passer, ball-carrier and receiver. He’s not that same dynamic player when he’s under center full time, and New Orleans simultaneously loses out on having Hill as a chain-moving offensive weapon.
And look, I get that the team’s QB competition during training camp and in the preseason was between Winston and Hill, but Siemian proved he can lead the Saints against even the best teams in the NFL. After replacing an injured Winston in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, Siemian threw for a 159 yards and a touchdown to help New Orleans defeat the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.
Payton has simplified the star-deficient offense to a “run, run, chunk play” unit. Siemian is capable of making those plays when called upon, as he throws with anticipation and has a good understanding of the system. Plus, Payton’s play-calling is among the best in the NFL.
Top 15 Offensive Players
Each week in the 2021 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. The Week 9 pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
Murray was one throw away from keeping his team as the league’s only unbeaten, but miscommunication with A.J. Green cost the Cardinals at the end of regulation. Winning alone would have covered Murray’s game-long struggles. Instead, we’re left with this stat line: 66.7 completion percentage, 274 passing yards, zero TDs, two picks and a season-low 67.0 passer rating.
Rodgers and the Packers were lucky to squeak past the Cardinals after a game-sealing pick in the end zone by Rasul Douglas with 12 seconds left in regulation. We were all waiting to see how the Packers would perform without Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, and they found ways to get the job done, with Rodgers giving his young receivers chances and leaning on the run game. Oh, and the reigning MVP also connected with Randall Cobb for a pair of TDs, ultimately helping the Packers take down the league’s last unbeaten team.
Allen is a big reason why the Bills have started 5-2 for the third straight season and why they’ve won seven straight games vs. the Miami Dolphins. On Sunday, Allen completed 29 of his 42 pass attempts for 249 yards, two TDs and a 100.2 passer rating — his fifth consecutive game with a 100-plus passer rating, the longest such streak in his career. He also rushed for 55 yards, with a 7-yard TD run late in the fourth. The Bills are sitting pretty atop the AFC East, heading into a November slate that features away games against the Jaguars, Jets and Saints and a home contest vs. the Colts.
Highly distressing news overnight in Las Vegas, with wide receiver Henry Ruggs III facing a charge of DUI resulting in the death of another person. Just terrible. Obviously football’s irrelevant in the tragic fallout here, but this is more adversity in a trying season for the Raiders. Derek’s currently on a 17-game pace to break Peyton Manning’s single-season yardage record, but his leadership is what the team needs most right now.
If playing in Miami was Brady’s kryptonite in New England, facing the Saints’ defense is it for Brady in Tampa. He lost his third straight regular-season contest against New Orleans on Sunday after throwing a pick-six to P.J. Williams on a potential game-winning drive. He did finish the game with 375 passing yards and four TDs, but late turnovers can rarely be overcome at this level.
You hate to see Henry have to sit out for any amount of time, considering the season he’s been putting together. In the wake of his foot injury, there’s no timetable for a potential return. Henry could return before the end of the regular season, but there’s no doubt the Titans will have to make adjustments without a player who’s accounting for 84.2 percent of the Titans’ carries. This is the last week Henry will be in the rankings, at least until he makes his return.
The Cowboys played the long game Sunday night by deactivating Prescott, who’s battling a calf injury. Dak has been playing some of the best football of any quarterback this season — in fact, he’s at the top of Jeffri Chadiha’s MVP watch rankings — but this team has deep postseason aspirations, so no need to push him in Week 8. And hey: Cooper Rush to the rescue! Prescott’s backup rallied the ‘Boys to a win over the Vikings, giving Dallas’ decision the best possible outcome.
Defenses know Kupp is going to get the majority of Matthew Stafford‘s targets, yet he continues to produce at a historic rate. With 115 yards and a TD on seven receptions in Sunday’s win over the Texans, Kupp became the only player in the Super Bowl era with at least 900 receiving yards and 10 receiving TDs in his team’s first eight games of a season. The last NFL player to do so? Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell in 1962 with Washington.
The Jets held the Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate to a season-low 32 yards on three receptions. However, Chase scored on a 2-yard pass from Joe Burrow and still holds the rookie record for most receiving yards through eight games (786).
While Aaron Rodgers found ways to navigate his offense without Davante Adams, Kyler Murray wasn’t on the same page with his receivers for much of the night with Hopkins missing big chunks of the game with a hamstring injury. The Cardinals’ WR1 played just 23 percent of offensive snaps against Green Bay, per Next Gen Stats, yet he led the team in receiving yards (66) on just two receptions. That pretty much sums up Arizona’s offensive performance.
Having just been thumped by the Bengals in Week 7, the Ravens got an assist during their bye week from the Mike White-led Jets to get back to the top of the AFC North. Jackson is in the thick of the MVP race as we near the halfway point, ranking 10th in passing yards per game and 12th in rushing yards per game.
The Packers got the job done without Adams against the Cardinals, but make no mistake: The All-Pro receiver was sorely missed in the passing game. Green Bay’s receivers had a season-high three drops.
Evans notched his eighth receiving touchdown on the season against the Saints, tying him for second-most in the NFL. Tampa lost its second game of the year, though. And who knows: If Brady would’ve hit Evans on a crosser instead of trying to force the ball to a double-teamed Chris Godwin, maybe the Bucs would have a comfortable lead in the division. Instead, they’re sitting with a half-game edge over New Orleans heading into the bye.
Stafford breaks his way into my list after stringing together four straight wins for the Rams. The veteran had 305 passing yards and three TDs in Sunday’s blowout win over Houston, then was rewarded with one of the best pass rushers of the last decade on Monday morning. Everything is shaping up for this Rams team to be playing in February, and Stafford deserves that chance.
Samuel is a YAC monster, far and away the best player on San Francisco’s offense right now. With 171 receiving yards against the Bears, Deebo now has 819 total. That’s the most ever for a 49er through the first seven games of a season, breaking Jerry Rice’s record of 781 set in 1986.
DROPPED OUT: Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers (Previously No. 12); Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs (No. 15).
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