The Jets don’t have a quarterback controversy, they have quarterback intrigue.
And that’s a good thing.
In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s storybook performance by unheralded backup Mike White in the Jets’ stirring 34-31 comeback victory over the heavily favored Bengals at MetLife Stadium, Robert Saleh opted not to go the conventional route when asked about his quarterback plans for the future.
“We’ll go day-to-day, but anything is possible, right?’’ the Jets first-year coach said in the breathless moment of euphoria following the win Sunday.
While most coaches drone into a default answer about how there is no quarterback controversy and the job is the incumbent starter’s as soon as he’s healthy, Saleh didn’t go there when asked about his 22-year-old first-round-draft-pick starter Zach Wilson, who’s out with a PCL injury to his right knee.
To his credit, Saleh didn’t fall back on the conventional coachspeak that often morphs into either a lie or, to borrow from Roger Clemens, a misremembering.
My immediate takeaway from those Saleh Sunday comments was that he didn’t want to do anything to take the shine off of what the 26-year-old White did on his magical day, becoming only the second quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards in his first NFL start.
Then, expecting Saleh to walk those comments back a bit on Monday, the first-year coach doubled down, and I loved it, totally endorsing the approach.
“Listen, the reality — hypothetical — I can be the next Vince Lombardi,’’ Saleh said Monday. “The reality is Mike played a really good game, we have a really short turnaround [a Thursday night game against the Colts in Indianapolis] and we have to get ourselves going. If everything goes according to plan and Zach comes back and he’s healthy, we’ll address it when we cross that bridge.’’
That bridge didn’t need to be crossed on Sunday, minutes after the most significant win of Saleh’s head-coaching career. It didn’t need to be crossed Monday. It doesn’t need to be crossed until Wilson is healthy enough to play again.
Wilson, 22, drafted second overall and having the starting job in hand before he embraced Roger Goodell and posed with his green No. 2 Jets jersey for the TV grip-and-grin image, doesn’t need his head coach to cross that bridge at the moment, either.
Wilson, with his rifle arm, mad athletic skills and the mature-beyond-his-years head on his shoulders, is the future of the Jets. That doesn’t need to be addressed right now.
If you’re a Jets fan who can’t wait to see Wilson back behind center, ask yourself this question: If White plays well Thursday night and wins and does the same thing on Nov. 14 against the Bills, are you going to be in a hurry to have Saleh sit White and start Wilson on Nov. 21 against the Dolphins?
I think not.
What if White does the same thing against the Dolphins (currently 1-7) on Nov. 21 and then the Texans (1-7) on Nov. 28 and has the Jets on a — gulp — four-game winning streak?
Why does Saleh need to start doling out votes of confidence and a schedule for when Wilson returns to the starting lineup right now?
He’d be foolish to do so.
When I asked Saleh on Monday if he was concerned that he was opening up a Pandora’s box by being noncommittal about Wilson, he said, “That’s for you guys [reporters] to talk about, to be honest with you. I know exactly how we’ll operate. I know exactly what we’re looking for. If it’s something that you guys want to play with and have fun with … have fun.’’
Saleh knows damned well what his plan is for the Jets starting quarterback of the future is. It’s Wilson, of course.
But as long as White keeps doing even close to what he did Sunday, which is look like he belongs, what’s the use in rushing him out the door?
“If [White] is out there performing at a ridiculously high level, how do you not entertain anything?’’ Saleh said Monday on ESPN Radio. “That’s why I said anything’s possible. You’ve got to let the day play out. What happened Sunday was awesome, but the focus is today and trying to get ready for a quick turnaround Thursday. Let’s play that game rather than play all these different hypotheticals.’’
The 2-5 Jets are not hypothetically playing a road game Thursday night against a Colts team that’s fresh off a 34-31 home overtime loss to the Titans. That game is real, not hypothetical.
“It’s not to open Pandora’s box,’’ Saleh said of his open stance on the quarterback scenario. “I’m not going to make a promise I can’t keep.’’
The most ardent Jets fan should know better than anyone that there are no promises. Only hope. And Wilson remains that hope … unless someone like Mike White supersedes that.
And if he does, who’s complaining?
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