Jets QB Mike White cleared to play Sunday vs. Seahawks

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Monday, December 26, 2022

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Another week, another quarterback shakeup for the New York Jets.

Cleared by team doctors, Mike White returns to the lineup this week and will be the starter for the remainder of the season, coach Robert Saleh announced Monday. The beleaguered Zach Wilson, once considered the franchise's long-term answer, will be inactive, meaning he may never again play for the team that drafted him second overall in 2021.

The Jets, whose slim playoff hopes received a boost over the weekend, face the Seattle Seahawks in a pivotal road game Sunday. Joe Flacco will be the No. 2 quarterback.

White missed two games after fracturing at least two ribs on a Dec. 11 hit by Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano. Initially, it was considered a three- to four-week injury, a source said. The Jets (7-8), losers of four straight, are hoping the popular White can provide a late-season spark.

"He's proven he can be a winner in this league, and he's proven he can be a winner in this system," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "Obviously, the guys trust him. There's a spark when he's on the field. He knows how to manage the game well and make all the right throws. ... He's shown through the hard times and the good times that he's able to make something happen."

This is another setback for Wilson, whose future with the team appears bleak. He now has been benched twice in a span of six weeks and replaced once within a game, fueling speculation that he won't be back in 2023.

"The plan for Zach hasn't changed," Saleh said. "I still think he has a future here. I still think he's going to be a really good quarterback. He needs time to just kind of sit back and continue the development that we were trying re-kick start, if you will, after the [Nov. 20] New England game. We still have him in our future and in our plans."

Wilson was benched after that game and was inactive for three straight games -- a "reset," the Jets called it. Saleh was prepared to ride White the rest of the year, but he returned to Wilson after White's rib injury. Wilson struggled and was booed off the field last Thursday night. He was replaced by former practice-squad quarterback Chris Streveler in a 19-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Afterward, Wilson admitted his confidence was shaken.

"He's not going to be a kid that quits," Saleh said. "I don't think he's looking at this and saying it's going to be an impossible hill to climb.

"While it doesn't look good and while it doesn't seem like there's light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to put your head down and keep working. There are a lot of quarterbacks in this league that made it out of a dark tunnel. And if you look throughout the league, more quarterbacks than not have started in the dungeon, if you will, and found their way out to sunlight."

Wilson is 6-3 as the starter but has only six touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Against Jacksonville, he completed only nine of 18 passes for 92 yards -- his second sub-100-yard outing in his last three starts.

Saleh declined to say whether White has a chance to play his way into the 2023 starting job. He will be a free agent. With White, the Jets are 1-2, averaging just 22 points per game, but they've moved the ball better with him than Wilson. They averaged 400 yards per game from Weeks 12 to 14, fourth in the league.

"I thought he did a great job moving the offense, sustaining drives, getting first downs -- much more efficient," Saleh said. "The offense was running with some good efficiency. So, it's a great opportunity for him and it's a great opportunity for everybody."

The Jets have an 11% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN analytics. Saleh himself conceded last Friday their chances were "farfetched," but they got help from the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, both of whom lost.

If the Jets win out, and the Patriots lose one of their remaining two games, the Jets will make the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.

"The football gods were definitely at work this past weekend," Mosley said. "You could probably say the weekend before that as well. We just have to deliver."

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