ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)Mike White took one hit after another and kept coming back in refusing to leave the field until after the final whistle, when the Jets quarterback – with cell phone in hand – finally boarded an ambulance for what the team said was a precautionary trip to the hospital.

Before that, White continued impressing coach Robert Saleh and his teammates by gritting through the pain of injured ribs until his final pass attempt was batted down by Buffalo’s A.J. Epenesa in the final seconds of a 20-12 loss to the Bills on Sunday.

”Everybody respects the heck out of him,” Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley said. ”Everybody knows what type of person he is.”

And Saleh made clear afterward that so long as White is healthy enough to play, he’ll remain the starter as the Jets (7-6) continue their late-season pursuit to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

White kept playing despite being sidelined twice while absorbing seven hits – three of them sacks – from Bills defenders.

The first time came when he was hit near the left shoulder by Ed Oliver, which forced White to miss one play.

The second time was worse.

White had just released a pass when linebacker Matt Milano drove his right shoulder into the quarterback’s chest. The brunt of the blow folded White over Milano’s shoulder and drove him back 3 yards and into the ground.

White lay on the turf for a few moments in obvious pain before going to the locker room to be evaluated for a rib injury, and returned after missing four offensive plays.

CBS television analyst Tony Romo referenced the movie ”Karate Kid” when White walked back out of the Highmark Stadium tunnel.

”Daniel LaRusso is gonna fight,” Romo said. ”I just saw Mr. Miyagi go back there and clap his hands.”

White’s teammates weren’t surprised by his persistence or pain tolerance.

Jets running back Michael Carter called White a ”soldier,” and said he expected him to come back.

”It’s amazing to play with him, man,” Carter said.

Saleh recalled how White returned from getting X-rays with his helmet on and informed the coach he wanted back in.

”He’s tough,” Saleh said. ”It showed everybody everybody else more than what we already know with regards to how tough he is.”

Facing the Bills defense was a mental toughness challenge for White, who threw four interceptions in a loss last season against the AFC East rival.

White, a fifth-round draft pick by the Cowboys in 2018 who joined the Jets practice squad the following season, has started six games for the Jets over the past two seasons. Sunday’s game was his third consecutive start this season after replacing Zach Wilson, a first-round pick in 2021.

White had little to do with a loss in which the Jets had the edge in offensive yards (309 to Buffalo’s 232), first downs (19-14) and a near nine-minute advantage in time of possession.

The difference was the Jets losing two fumbles – one by backup Joe Flacco and the other by Carter.

Left tackle Duane Brown said the line has to do a better job of protecting White.

”Can’t take those kind of hits. He gave us a chance to win here, or to tie it up. … I don’t know what kind of pain he was in,” Brown said. ”He kept coming, he kept getting up. Delivering some big-time plays when we needed it. I just told him I appreciated it.”

Though the Jets have lost two of three since White replaced Wilson, he continues to spark the team with his arm and tenacity.

”Sometimes, it’s hard to get back up,” Mosley said. ”He showed his perseverance. He showed his love for his teammates, for his coaches, showed his love for his family. He wanted to be out there if he could. He risked himself, risked his body.”

NOTES: Saleh said DL Quinnen Williams is day to day with a calf injury, and added he has a chance to play against Detroit next weekend. … WR Corey Davis is in the concussion protocol. … CB Brandin Echols injured his quadriceps. … LB Marcell Harris, who was elevated from the practice squad, hurt an ankle.

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL