EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Mike White caught himself listening to the crowd for a moment during his first NFL start. The shouts of New York Jets fans echoed throughout MetLife Stadium, and the quarterback realized they were celebrating him.
“At first, I kind of had to listen again,” White said with a smile after leading the Jets to a stunning 34-31 comeback victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. “Like, are they chanting my name?”
They sure were, and for good reason.
White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns, caught a 2-point conversion pass on the go-ahead score, and joined Cam Newton (2011) as the only players since at least 1950 to throw for 400 or more yards in their first career start.
“He’s a dog. He’s an animal. He’s a savage,” running back Ty Johnson said. “I told him before the game, ‘You’re a gunslinger, so let’s ride.’ ”
White, starting in place of injured rookie Zach Wilson, pulled off the improbable victory for the Jets (2-5) while going 37 of 45 — an NFL record for the most completions in a player’s first start.
“Going out and watching film at the beginning of the week and seeing what they do on defense, I knew there would be completions out there,” White said.
He overcame two early interceptions and also became the Jets’ first 400-yard passer since Vinny Testaverde threw for 481 on Christmas Eve 2000, a span of 327 games. And he even left for a few plays to be checked for a neck injury.
All that from a backup who was a fifth-round pick of Dallas in 2018 out of Western Kentucky and hadn’t thrown an NFL pass until last week. And with Wilson still out for at least next Thursday night’s game Indianapolis, White will get a chance for an encore.
“Mike is fantastic,” coach Robert Saleh said. “He’s poised, he showed it all throughout camp, all throughout OTAs, that he deserves to be one of those guys and obviously he showed it today.”
With the Bengals (5-3) leading, 31-20, in the fourth quarter, the Jets got an acrobatic touchdown by Johnson, who took a short pass from White and tip-toed down the left sideline and reached over the goal line for a 19-yard score. It was initially ruled Johnson stepped out at the 2, but video review overturned the call and confirmed the touchdown.
White’s 2-point conversion pass to Keelan Cole was incomplete, and New York trailed, 31-26, with 4:36 left.
Shaq Lawson then came up with the Jets’ first interception of the season, deflecting Joe Burrow’s pass and snagging it to give New York the ball at the Bengals 14. Two plays later, White found a wide-open Tyler Kroft in the back of the end zone to give New York a one-point lead.
The Jets went for the 2-point conversion and turned to some trickery, a twist on the Eagles’ “Philly Special.” Jamison Crowder tossed it to a wide-open White in the end zone to make it 34-31 with 3:45 left.
It all had the fans at a half-filled MetLife Stadium loudly chanting: “Mike! White!”
“He deserved that!” running back Michael Carter said. “You saw what he did out there today.”
The Jets forced the Bengals to punt on fourth-and-19 from the 40. Cincinnati never got the ball back.
“Got outcoached, got outplayed today,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said. “They’re a hungry team. We knew they were capable of this.”
On third-and-11, Johnson was stopped for no gain on a catch, but Mike Hilton was called for unnecessary roughness. That gave New York the first down, and White took a knee in victory formation moments later.
“It’s a wakeup call, for sure,” Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “Any team can beat anybody on any given Sunday. We learned that today. It’s a valuable lesson that won’t be forgotten.”