FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Mike White isn’t sure when this wild ride will end. And maybe it won’t anytime soon.
The New York Jets quarterback is making his third straight start Sunday against Buffalo, filling in while the injured Zach Wilson heals from a sprained knee ligament.
Each time White enters the locker room, his teammates announce his arrival — shouting his name the way Jets fans have from the stands.
“Some of these guys won’t stop chanting ‘Mike! White!’ and it’s like, it’s got to stop at some point, guys,” White said with a smile. “It’s cool, but you kind of have to brush it off almost and stay locked in.”
What it all means for the future can be everyone else’s debate. White insists his focus is solely on trying to beat the Bills — even if social media and sports talk radio and TV can’t get enough of the quarterback who seemingly came out of nowhere to be the talk of the league.
“Yeah, it’s kind of crazy, it’s cool,” White said. “You know, you’ve got to soak it in when you can and enjoy it when you can. But it kind of catches you off guard.”
It caught everyone off guard.
Wilson was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft in April and anointed the starter the moment he arrived. While others wondered why the Jets had no experienced backup to push Wilson, New York stood pat with White — who hadn’t taken a regular-season snap since being drafted in the fifth round by Dallas in 2018 and wasn’t considered a big-time prospect.
“I have 100% confidence in myself,” White said. “So if you ask me, I should have been a first overall pick, but that’s neither here nor there.”
Wilson went through the expected ups and downs of a rookie quarterback, throwing four touchdown passes and nine interceptions while flashing playmaking skills. And then came the injury that made the franchise and its entire fanbase hold its breath. Wilson sprained the posterior collateral ligament in his right knee and would be sidelined a few weeks.
He threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns in his first NFL start, a victory over Cincinnati — a performance that landed his jersey and game ball in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. White was off to another good start last Thursday before a bruised nerve in his throwing hand forced him out of the game because of numbness in his fingers.
He’s fine now, and ready for his next opportunity.
“That’s my mindset,” White said. “Every time I go on the field, whether it’s this team or the other 31 teams, I want to show them what I’m capable of and let the rest handle itself.”
Coach Robert Saleh has said he will take the Jets’ quarterback situation day by day, a departure from last week when he said Wilson would be the starter again when he’s fully healthy. That’s still at least a week away, with Wilson saying his knee isn’t quite 100% yet.
But there’s a scenario where Wilson is ready — but White is playing so well that the Jets have no choice to leave him out there. And that’s OK with Wilson, for now.
“My time is going to come,” Wilson said.
It’s White’s time this week, though. But there’s no tension or weird vibes between the two. Wilson said White is his closest friend on the team, and the feeling is mutual.
“In college, whether you get hurt or you’re the backup, you want the team to do well but a part in your head, you’re like, ‘Oh man, I hope the backup doesn’t do well, right?’” Wilson said. “But in the NFL, it’s so different. You know, I really do hope Mike does well. I hope the team wins and it’s just because of the business of it all and the way that Mike treats me when he was the backup. He deserves to do well. He’s been working his butt off. The whole situation, it’s been a lot smoother than you would think it would be.
“And so I think it’s only going to be beneficial for me in the long run.”
Wilson acknowledged he has seen things while watching film from his first six starts that have made him say, “Geez, what am I doing?” He has also watched White operate the offense with efficiency and success, providing him a blueprint of what he needs to do when he’s back under center.
“It’s been really cool for me just to kind of sit back and see, you know, he did something different than I might have,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that was really cool to see how this this worked out because he did that,’ you know? And it’s cool things I can learn from.”
Both Wilson and White will continue to root each other on, even as everyone else wonders if this will turn into a full-blown quarterback controversy at some point soon.
“I operate on a week-to-week basis and this week I’m the quarterback for the team, so my job is to be prepared and go out there and help execute the offense,” White said. “And next week, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Whatever job the team gives me, that’s what I’ll do to the best of my ability.”
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.