Jets safety Jordan Whitehead covers some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Would you like to get a pick off Patrick Mahomes on Sunday night in front of Taylor Swift?
A: I’m gonna get a pick. I’m not a big fan of a lot of stuff. I’m gonna get a pick (laugh).
Q: How do you know that?
A: Oh, you know Mahomes, he gives you chances, and my mindset going into this game is, “I’m gonna get a pick.” From watching the film, he gives chances. If your mindset isn’t that you’re gonna get a pick, you’re probably not gonna get a pick. Chances are that ball comes to you, you’re not gonna be ready.
Q: Have you picked Mahomes?
A: So this is what I’ll say: I had an interception off of him, but my D-lineman lined up offsides (laugh). That didn’t count!
Q: What’s it like defending him?
A: He’s a different type of guy. He’s one of the greatest at just finding the guys, extending plays. I love watching him play just ’cause he’s exciting to watch. He’s a great guy just from seeing him around and listening to him on TV and stuff like that. He’s a competitor. He loves to win, and that’s why he makes those plays, that’s why he’s always going to the Super Bowl. This is a great matchup, this is a great opportunity, that’s why I’m so eager to get an interception off of him because he’s one of the greatest.
Q: He puts a lot of stress on a defense.
A: Oh, he does. Yeah you gotta be on your P’s and Q’s every play, you can’t take a play off because they will throw a home run over your head. For me, I’m excited, ’cause I know there’s gonna be some throws and there’s gonna be some ball on the air, and that’s the ball I want (laugh).
Q: What do you remember about playing Mahomes in Super Bowl LV while with the Buccaneers?
A: I know they didn’t score [a touchdown in the Bucs’ 31-9 win]. I know we had [two] interceptions. I know our D-line was rushing real good.
Q: What makes him Travis Kelce special?
A: He just knows how to run routes. He knows how to get open. He’s savvy with his routes. Knows how to use his hips. Confuse you a little bit, you have to have great eye discipline. Travis is definitely one of them secure catch guys if the ball’s thrown to him. Break a tackle, get in the end zone. Him and Mahomes have a special relationship.
Q: What’s the difference defending him and defending Rob Gronkowski?
A: Gronk is a power guy. Gronk is a big, big, big tight end. I don’t know Travis Kelce’s speed, but I know Gronk had them long strides. Gronk was actually kind of fast. Travis is big, too, but Gronk was just … he’s Gronk (laugh). He got me a lot of good work when I was with him in Tampa. He’s very physical at the end of the route, pushing off and things like that. You gotta be ready for just like guarding the bigger guys.
Q: Who would you rather cover?
A: I don’t know. … I know when Gronk came over I was really excited to go against him every day. We played Travis in the Super Bowl when I was with the Buccaneers, and Lavonte David did a great job handling him.
Q: Why do you love being the underdog?
A: ’Cause it keeps you motivated. You don’t get complacent. When you get that love coming in, some people can get complacent and slack off a little bit. Always being an underdog there’s always something to prove. It’s not even proving it to other people, for me. I’m an underdog in my eyes just because the accolades. … People get All-Pro, Pro Bowl or stuff like that. I still think I’m the best. … I didn’t get the accolades, why so? OK, so this is what I need to do. And it’s like, you look at stats, we got the same similar stats, I gotta do something else.
Q: You think you’re a Pro Bowl player?
A: I honestly do, yes. If you go by stats, there’s nothing else to say. You could go by stats and it looks similar to a lot of the Pro Bowl guys. I honestly believe in the last couple of years I was one of the top players in run support for a safety, but now evolving in the game, I’m trying to show people that I can do a little bit of everything, and that’s what’s gonna take my game to the next level.
Q: Do you consider yourself an intimidator?
A: Maybe not the size-wise, but when I’m on that field, my goal is to make sure you walk off that field like, “Damn. No. 3 can play. He plays hard. He’s gonna hit you.” Coming from my fellow safeties on other teams, that’s the recognition you want. When those guys after the game come up to you, that’s when you know it’s a respect thing, that’s when it matters.
Q: Do you think your three picks against Josh Allen on opening night might have opened some eyes?
A: I’m sure it has, I’m sure it definitely did. That kind of motivated me. That was, “You know what? I could do this every week,” because last week I had a chance, I had a dropped pick — so that ball’s gonna find me. And I’m gonna find the ball.
Q: You were upset with yourself last year because you dropped four.
A: Exactly. So that one extra, that little one I dropped last week, we can’t do that. That could have flipped the game, I look at it like that.
Q: What is so great about a huge hit?
A: When I first came in the league there was an “Ooooh,” that’s the intimidating factor you’re talking about. “We don’t want to run across the middle again anymore,” things like that. But you start getting a fine, you can’t do that ’cause they’re throwing everything now. They’re throwing all types of flags for stupid stuff, so that’s definitely in the back of my head and I do not want any more fines, so I’m definitely trying to be more finesse. Still be aggressive, but go after the ball.
Q: What was it like going up against Aaron Rodgers in the 2020 NFC Championship game?
A: We played ’em earlier that year, too. We had a great quarterback on our team, they had a great quarterback. At least I got somebody to practice with going into that game, going against Tom [Brady] during that week a little bit. They got them tendencies that only those great guys can do. Going against that Hall of Famer-type quarterback that’s gonna hard count at the line, he’s gonna look off … during camp this year, Aaron got me so much better by going against him every day at practice, and then the days added up, and like I’m breaking on the ball faster, reading faster, just off of all his little no-looks and things that he does.
Q: Have you intercepted him as an opponent?
A: No, I had an opportunity last year. It didn’t go well for me (laugh). It was there. He kind of threw it up, a lobber, the corner broke it up, but it was a play I could have made.
Q: From your Twitter: “I have the eye of a lion and the heart of a tiger.”
A: Lion’s always aware of everything going on. If somebody walks past, they look up. The females do the hunting and the male sits back. The male observes, and if he needs to do what he has to do, then he attacks. The biggest, meanest animal is the lion, but they also are very smart. … Tigers attack. Tigers are fierce animals.
Q: Describe your on-field mentality.
A: I’m different off the field, soon as I get on the field I flip the switch. It’s just business for me. I’m serious about what I do, and I try take control of it, and I try to just be the leader on the field for the guys. When you’re on this field, it’s just a feeling that nobody could take away from you. Football gives you this feeling that you just be yourself.
Q: Describe that feeling.
A: The lion mentality. You just know what the game does for you outside of just football. We talk about it in the defensive room all the time, changes your life, changes your family’s life, change your kid’s life, so it’s just serious when we get out here.
Q: What drives you?
A: I chose to do this, and to be the best at it. That’s what motivates me. I need to be the best.
Q: What is the biggest adversity you had to overcome?
A: I would say my brother passing probably. Adversity with this football game is not really adversity. It’s not real life. It does a lot of good things for you in life, but that’s a game at the end of the day. So when people say, “Are you nervous for the game?” No. It’s a game. It could be somebody just getting sick in your family, it doesn’t have to be a death, but those are real more adversities and I had a couple like that.
Q: Tell me about your brother, Noah.
A: Very likeable, very energy, he would get on people’s nerves ’cause he just talked so much, in a good way though. He loved me, he made sure that everybody knew who I was. He was proud of me. It’s definitely something I always think about before I play. My last memory was when I went home, we played the Steelers [last year], and he was at the game. I had a video from the game, I had an interception, we won, I had one called back. He was excited. It’s our hometown, so all the boys are there, he’s just talking mess. Everybody was mad ’cause the Steelers lost, but he was happy. It was a good time.
Q: What was the age difference?
A: We were four years apart.
Q: He was older?
Q: When you found out he had been shot, how devastating was it?
A: It was definitely hard. My pops, he was having a hard time, but we all just stuck together. It made us open our eyes up and realize just how life is so short. Family is like all you got.
Q: It happened in Aliquippa, Pa.?
A: In Pittsburgh.
Q: You intercepted Daniel Jones at the 8-yard line to preserve a 24-17 Pitt win over Duke in 2017.
A: I had an interception on him earlier that game that got called back, too (laugh). Seems like it’s a thing for me! I wasn’t even happy that I picked it because I think how the game was going, I was upset. I was playing a little bit of offense, I got tackled in the backfield I think, or I got tackled on the 1, I was upset, and then I finally got the pick and I was just like, “We won, let’s just get out of here (laugh).”
Q: Do you miss running the ball and catching the ball?
A: Yes I do. That’s why I need a pick-six. Get back to my [high school] days.
Q: I read you had 205 yards rushing on seven carries in one high school game, is that right?
Q: Two dinner guests?
A: Will Smith, Denzel Washington.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Remember the Titans.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Will Smith.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Halle Berry.
Q: Favorite meal?
Q: This is the second and last year of your contract. What are your thoughts about staying?
A: I would love to. I know A-Rod will be here, all my guys, D.J.’s [Reed] gonna be here, Sauce [Gardner], Garrett [Wilson], my dad’s from New York [Harlem]. It’s home.
Q: Describe your Pitt buddy, and Cardinals running back, James Conner, who battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015-16.
A: That’s one of the guys that got me through college. His mindset, even before he went through chemo, he’s just the locker room guy he is to everybody. You see him, and your day brightens up. He kept me focused just on working out, trying to get better, and then when we went through chemo and everything, it was just a brotherhood, bonding, just being there for him, and just see how strong he was going through chemo, then coming to practice, just kind of made me realize that what I’m complaining about is not really serious.
Q: What was the lesson your Pitt teammate and friend Damar Hamlin taught you, surviving cardiac arrest on the field last season and returning to the Bills this year?
A: Don’t take the game for granted, ’cause you never know what’s gonna happen. You just go out here thinking that you might just sprain an ankle or something, but there’s definitely life or death.