“The Mike White Game” was a religious experience at MetLife Stadium, comparable in recent years only to the overtime coin-toss fiasco against the New England Patriots. The instantly memorable Week 8 contest saw the New York Jets beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 34-31. Home underdogs by 11.5 points, it took a complimentary performance, some lucky breaks, and one incredible first start to take down the now 5-3 Bengals. Let’s see just how it went down.
White’s play was easily the story of Sunday’s game. He ran the offense well as he was consistently accurate and on schedule. White constantly took what the defense gave him, protected his receivers, and kept the ball out of harm’s way. Even his two interceptions hit teammates before falling into the hands of a defender.
Totaling 405 yards and three touchdowns, White showcased the best-case scenario for a 3.6 air yard/attempt outing. If nothing else, he put on a clinic for Zach Wilson and how to get the ball out fast and keep the chains moving. White never lost control of the moment and retained his poise and accuracy under pressure.
Another benefit of White’s game was his level of comfort within the offense. This allowed Mike LaFleur to call his game from the booth. Nothing was drastically different schematically, but with the numbers the offense put up, I’d be surprised if they let LaFleur out yet.
The Running Backs
I’ve been hard on this group at times, but they showed out on Sunday.
Michael Carter was the main beneficiary of the LaFleur game plan, catching nine of 14 targets for 95 yards. He also carried the rock 15 times for 77 yards and a score. Carter played 70% of New York’s offensive snaps and showed his ability to be the engine of the offense. His fantastic contact balance and agility extended plays time and time again.
Subsequent to Carter’s brilliance, Ty Johnson saw a 29% snap share, his lowest of the season. However, he made the most of it. His four carries for 15 yards didn’t shift expectations, but he had one of his better receiving games of the season, garnering five catches and 71 yards on six targets. He was involved in both a spectacular tightrope exhibit for a touchdown and the game’s clinching penalty.
The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Corey Davis sitting out didn’t bode well against a strong Cincinnati defense, but the New York Jets wide receivers did their part in Week 8. Jamison Crowder was a machine after the catch, and outside of his lone fumble, was a frequent target of White’s. His eight catches were the most amongst New York wide receivers.
In Davis’ absence, Denzel Mims was on the field for a vast majority of the team’s snaps. He ultimately was only targeted three times per the box score, but an Elijah Moore holding call took a seemingly manufactured Mims touch off the board. He filled in well and even without awesome production, likely earned himself additional snaps in the future.
Rookie Elijah Moore had an inspiring day, too. He was featured behind the line of scrimmage, much like his touchdown against New England. It’s a point of emphasis for this Jets offense to get the ball in Moore’s hands and let him make defenders miss. Unlike Week 7, however, Moore was effective as a receiver as well. He caught six of his targets and totaled 67 yards through the air.
Braxton Berrios and Keelan Cole split seven targets, but both looked good. Cole had himself a catch-of-the-year candidate before a slight movement of the football took his touchdown away. Berrios would respond by finishing the drive with a score in nearly the same exact spot.
As for the tight ends, it was another rather underwhelming week. Tyler Kroft outplayed (and outproduced) Ryan Griffin, but neither took any semblance of a quantum leap.
The Offensive Line
For how bad they were as a unit in September, New York’s offensive line played spectacularly on Sunday. For the first time all season, they had quality performances from all five starting linemen. Surely, it played a significant role in the backs’ big games and keeping White (mostly) upright.
George Fant played well in his limited snaps before falling victim to an ankle injury. His replacement, Chuma Edoga, was not as stifling but performed better than previous weeks/years would suggest. Ideally, Fant starts on Thursday night, but Edoga’s play is encouraging at the very least.
Moving from left to right, Alijah Vera-Tucker had another quality outing. He’s continued to surprise since his awful start, exemplified by the development of him making exceptionally quick adjustments to adversarial situations instead of being mystified by simple stunts. His progression is critical to the long-term success of not only the unit but for the offense as a whole.
Connor McGovern had a solid game, and it seems the New York Jets have finally begun to mitigate their communication issues in Week 8. Perhaps what was more surprising was the play of Greg Van Roten, a Jet who I have repeatedly criticized. He had what could only be described as easily his best game as a member of this football team.
Interestingly enough, the Jets flipped tight end Daniel Brown for Laurent Duvernay-Tardif at the trade deadline. LDT, who struggled in his last starting stint, and hasn’t played since Super Bowl LIV, may give Van Roten a run for his money. I like the trade either way, but that competition will be interesting to watch unfold.
Lastly, Morgan Moses continued what has been a pretty good first year in New York. Gifting Jets’ passers blindside protection has been vital. As a unit, they held up well in both phases of the game.
The Defensive Line and Edge Rushers
It may not have been to the extent of the new folk-hero, but Shaq Lawson also had the game of his career, He made his presence felt without recoding a typical box score stat for a defensive lineman. Instead, he used his hands exceptionally well to tip Joe Burrow pass attempts. This culminated in the biggest defensive play of the game, an interception with just four-and-a-half minutes to go.
Jabari Zuniga was the only real flash opposite Lawson. He proved his worth with a big forced fumble on an impressive sack. I’d like to see him stick on the roster the rest of the way and learn under Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich.
The interior pressure was much better than the edge unit on Sunday. Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins both came up big. Where I was more impressed was their play against the run. Previous weeks had shown the Jets’ front to be vulnerable, especially when their linebacker play was failing to help, but both did a really good job of playing the run between the tackles.
The biggest impact the interior defensive line had was early, in the collection of red-zone plays run in the first quarter. Without their victories here, the Bengals may have quickly moved on with the Jets.
First of all, C.J. Mosley’s presence on this team cannot be overstated. He is easily their best linebacker and his pre-snap skills have a ripple effect across the defense. It’s no surprise that when he’s on the field, his fellow linebackers perform better.
Quincy Williams saw a sizeable drop in playing time, which was disappointing given his play. Considering the hopes the Jets had for Jarrad Davis, though, and it is not surprising that this unfolded how it had. Thankfully, both were adequate. Williams actually showed some nice reps in coverage and picked up his first (counted) sack of the year. If he keeps it up, he’ll have an argument to be their third linebacker in base packages next year.
It is also worth noting that Blake Cashman did not see the field after his abysmal showing in Foxborough. There were some high hopes amongst Jets faithful about the speedster, but it has failed to culminate on the gridiron thus far.
Given the recent performances of Ja’Marr Chase, holding him to 32 yards was an impeccable showing from the cornerback room. Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, and Michael Carter II all had individual moments of weakness, but they put together another very strong showing.
They each did a fantastic job of forcing Burrow to either hit a check-down or make a heavily-contested throw. For a young unit, it likely helps that they are not forced to travel and constantly shift their responsibilities beyond their means. They may not have come up with an interception yet, but the unit’s play, in general, has been a wonderful surprise.
There are few monumental takeaways from the current state of the safety room, but I think it acts as an interesting reflection on the coaching staff.
Marcus Maye, amidst trade rumors, contract uncertainty, and a seemingly hopeless season, certainly could have mentally checked out. It likely would have shown up on film, but a lack of viable replacements would put the front office in a bind.
Instead, Maye has continued to perform at a high level and quarterback the secondary. The hustle plays are still there and he is easily the best player in the safety room. Perhaps Saleh’s administration has done enough in this regard early on to keep everyone bought in. In Week 8 of a seemingly lost New York Jets season, it certainly wasn’t a guarantee.
Moreover, Ashtyn Davis did not have his best game as a Jet on Sunday. His tackling and angles were far from perfect, and it is clear he is still developing above the shoulders, much like New York’s cornerbacks. Still, it is encouraging to see him on the field for virtually every snap. He has the tools and the versatility to be a difference-maker, it is just a matter of development.
Sharrod Neasman has cemented his role as the team’s third safety. He too has still found the field, substituting in on lighter packages. His Week 4 flashes are enough for me to want the staff to keep an eye on him as a potential rotational contributor in the secondary long-term.
The Special Teams Units
Missing a field goal always dampens whatever blanket covers the special teams units, and it is clear Matt Ammendola has to be better. Yet, I’m curious whether Saleh’s 4th down conservativeness has put his kicker in adversarial situations. It may not have loomed large for the New York Jets in Week 8, but it is a bit of a troubling trend that could rear its ugly head once they find themselves in higher-stakes football games.
Otherwise, I have no complaints regarding New York’s special teams. Berrios was both responsible and effective in his returns. Their kickoff coverage was good, and their punter failed to see the field.
Week 8 played host to one of the craziest games the New York Jets have seen this century, to a point where quarterback controversy has almost been invited in. Of course, that can all disappear into the autumn air depending on the outcome of Thursday’s game.
Despite their loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts have played good football of late. If they fail to generate pressure, Carson Wentz can still do some legitimate damage, especially to a target as good as Michael Pittman Jr. Offensively, being down a starting quarterback and potentially quality players at left tackle and wide receiver isn’t going to make this primetime matchup much easier.
Game two of Mike LaFleur in the booth could prove to be the jolt this offense needed. If so, Wilson’s impending return should draw even more anticipation. Until then, it’s the Mike White Show, and it’s time to hit the road.