The New York Jets entered Week 12 in something of an odd situation. At 6-4, the Jets were very much in the postseason picture in the AFC, but New York wasn't being talked about as a legitimate postseason threat for one overriding reason:
The offense was awful.
In an effort to get the offense on track, the Jets made a switch at quarterback this week, benching second-year pro Zach Wilson in favor of Mike White. The move worked like a charm against the Chicago Bears, and after arguably the team's best offensive performance of the season, White appears to be entrenched as the Jets' starter.
And New York suddenly has the look of the kind of team that no one wants to face in the AFC playoffs.
After what happened in Week 11, Jets head coach Robert Saleh didn't really have any choice but to make a switch at quarterback. It wasn't just that the Jets barely cracked 100 yards of total offense or that Wilson completed 41 percent of his passes for just 77 yards.
The tipping point came after the Jets lost 10-3 to the Patriots. When asked by reporters whether he thought New York's anemic offense had let the defense down, Wilson tersely replied, "no."
The lack of accountability reportedly didn't sit well with Wilson's teammates. And with the Jets having lost two of three, Saleh made the call, though he told reporters that the demotion wasn't necessarily permanent.
"The biggest thing with Zach is that the young man needs a reset," Saleh said. "His decision-making has been fine; his practice habits, all that stuff, have been fine; but there's some basic, fundamental things that have gotten really out of whack for him.
"This is an opportunity for him to really sit back, focus on those things, find a way to get reconnected to all those things we fell in love with during the draft process. It's something I feel like he's going to be able to do. I think asking him to do all those things while preparing for a game is unfair."
However, given how White looked in his first start, Wilson's benching isn't going to be a one-week deal, either.
Simply put, White was outstanding against the Bears. For the game, the second-year pro completed 22 of 28 pass attempts for 315 yards and three touchdowns. White didn't turn the ball over and posted a robust passer rating of 149.3.
It was White's second stellar performance in just four career starts. And as ESPN's Rich Cimini pointed out, it puts White in some rather select company.
Rich Cimini @RichCimini
Mike White is the 5th QB in NFL history to record multiple games with 300 Pass yds and 3 Pass TD within his first 4 career starts.<br><br>White joins Kurt Warner (3), Patrick Mahomes (2), Mark Rypien (2) and Austin Davis (2). <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Jets?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Jets</a>
White's outstanding performance also drew raves from Saleh.
"He did a great job," Saleh told reporters. "He didn't need to be anybody but Mike White. We didn't need to turn into the greatest show on turf, we just needed—wanted him to play within himself and play efficiently, and I thought he did. He made easy look easy. I thought he did a really good job of that."
White's effort rippled down to the rest of the offense. Rookie wideout Garrett Wilson caught five passes for 95 yards and two scores, including a 54-yarder. Second-year wide receiver Elijah Moore, whose role in the offense had evaporated to the point he requested a trade earlier this season, caught a pair of passes for 64 yards and a score.
Tight end Tyler Conklin, who started the season hot only to vanish once Wilson got back in the lineup, reeled in three passes for 50 yards.
The Jets run game got a boost, too. Since rookie phenom Breece Hall went down with an ACL tear several weeks ago, the Jets rushing attack had faltered. But despite veteran James Robinson being a healthy scratch, the Jets piled up 158 rushing yards on 32 carries.
Amazing what can happen if opposing defenses can't stack the box with impunity.
After the game, an elated Moore pointed to Sunday's effort as an indication of what these Jets are capable of.
"That's what happens when we play New York Jets football. ... That's the real New York Jets football," Moore told Jeane Coakley of SNY after the game. "That's the definition of team football. I can't do nothing but thank Mike. Thank the defense. We played as a team."
The Jets did indeed play as a team. Granted, it came against a Bears team that ranked 22nd in total offense entering Week 12 and without Justin Fields. Nonetheless, the Jets allowed just 292 yards of offense, logged a pair of sacks, forced a turnover and allowed just four third-down conversions in 13 attempts.
New York's defense playing well is hardly a surprise, as the unit has carried the team for much of the season. The Jets entered Sunday sixth in the league in total defense, 10th against the pass, ninth in scoring defense and fifth in sacks. This is a unit that held the Bills to just 17 points in a Week 9 win. But as last week's loss to the Patriots showed, a stellar defensive effort is of little use if the team doesn't score any points.
It admittedly came against a Bears defense that has struggled at times this season, but White's performance on Sunday offers hope that the offense can at least hold its own moving forward and that the team's biggest liability could become an asset.
It's not like it doesn't have passing-game weaponry. It was just of little use to a unit that couldn't move the ball through the air.
White's big game couldn't have come at a better time for the Jets, not just because New York had lost two of three. With New England losing at Minnesota on Thanksgiving, the Jets moved past the Patriots and into third place in the AFC East.
The Jets are also headed into an absolutely pivotal and brutal two-week road trip. Their validity as a contender may well be determined in Minnesota and Buffalo.
The Jets team we watched pitch and lurch around Gillette Stadium in Week 11 likely doesn't have much of a chance to beat the Vikings or Bills. Even if the defense plays lights out, that version of the offense was too limited to hang with the league's heavyweights.
However, if the Jets can get play like from White on any sort of consistent basis, it's a whole new ballgame. The Jets already had an elite defense and offensive weapons. All the Gang Green symphony needed was a conductor. A maestro who could lead the team into the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Mike White just might be that guy.
And these Jets could well be a tough out the rest of the way this season.