The Bears’ defense isn’t going to take Jets quarterback Mike White lightly. The last time he stepped in for Zach Wilson he torched the Bengals for 405 passing yards and three touchdowns, outplaying Joe Burrow in a 34-31 victory on Oct. 31 at MetLife Stadium.
“He went crazy,” said Bears cornerback Lamar Jackson, who was on the Jets’ practice squad last season. “It gave us a lift and almost created a rift in the locker room. Because the second overall pick is in the locker room [starter Zach Wilson] and your back-up throws for 400 yards and now we’re thinking, ‘Something gotta happen.’
“I’m confident he’ll step into that role and play the best he could play. But it’s still up to us to defeat them. It’s going to be us versus them. But I’ve got respect for Mike.”
The respect that even former teammates like Jackson have for White could make the Jets even more dangerous than they would have been with Wilson, who was benched by coach Robert Saleh despite a 5-2 record as a starter after a demoralizing performance in a 10-3 loss to the Patriots. Wilson completed 9-of-22 passes for 77 yards, with no interceptions or touchdowns for a 50.8 passer rating.
Wilson caused some consternation within the Jets locker room when he was asked after Sunday’s game if he let the defense down and said, “No. no.” The lack of accountability didn’t factor into the decision, Saleh said, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an effect on the team.
That made sense to Jackson.
“I like Zach Wilson, but I can see comments about how he carries himself, a sense of arrogance — I could see how it could rub people the wrong way,” Jackson said. “When he’s good he’s good, and when he’s bad he’s bad. When you’re not the most likable guy, of course when things are bad, everybody’s going to have a problem with you.”
Wilson still is the future with the Jets, Saleh insisted Wednesday. But turning to White could invigorate the Jets in the short-term — all circumstances considered.
“I can definitely tell you the locker room, they’re behind Mike White,” Jackson said. “He’s one of those guys that’s very likable. I know everybody’s going to be trying to buy in and help him succeed — just [because of] the type of guy he is. I know he has good respect over there.
“Guys are going to help Mike White make it happen. They kind of know the situation. There ain’t no telling how they really feel about Zach. A guy steps in that’s been there … I’m sure they’re all going to play hard for him.”
Bears tight end Ryan Griffin, who played for the Jets last season and caught passes from Wilson and White last season, wasn’t going to get into that debate. But he also has a lot or respect for White.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Griffin said. “I wish him well — just not this week.”
Strategically, defending White is a little less complicated that defending the more mobile Wilson.
“[Wilson] has the ability to escape — not to say that Mike doesn’t,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “[Wilson] can move. He’s an athlete. He can do the keepers, a lot of things on the edge of the defense, where Mike is more really good at passing. He’s more of a pocket guy.”
But against a struggling Bears defense that has put little pressure on quarterbacks and could be short-handed in the secondary with cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker in concussion protocol, a pocket passer like White is a threat.
“He’s pretty balanced. He never gets high. Never gets low,” Jackson said. “I personally believe in him. I don’t think he’s just anybody. He’s got real potential and he can make things happen.”