INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The magnitude of the shock waves that undoubtedly rippled across the NFL landscape Sunday evening following Jacoby Brissett’s seismic performance failed to register at the epicenter.
The overriding reaction inside the Indianapolis Colts’ locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium: Yeah, so what?
“Jacoby played lights out,’’ Frank Reich said after watching Brissett serve as the no-doubt catalyst in the Colts’ 30-23 win over the Houston Texans.
That was coach-speak describing the best of Brissett’s 23 career starts: 26-of-39, 326 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, a 126.7 passer rating. The yards, TDs and rating were career bests.
Yet there were no raised eyebrows in a music-blaring locker room even though Jacoby Brissett has taken the ol’ Next Man Up mantra to the extreme.
On Aug. 23, he was firmly entrenched as Andrew Luck’s backup.
A day later, Luck shocked everyone by retiring, thrusting Brissett into the leading-man’s role.
“I wouldn’t say I was thrust into this role at all,’’ Brissett argued. “It’s been a journey, but it’s been fun.
“A day like today doesn’t make me the man. It makes us more balanced. We proved we can throw the ball.’’
If that comes as a surprise to the rest of the league – Brissett had 10 TDs in the first five games, but had averaged a modest 202 yards per game and 9.8 yards per completion – it’s been common knowledge inside Colts World.
T.Y. Hilton has been Brissett’s loudest advocate.
“I’ve been telling y’all all the time,’’ he said. “That’s just him, man. He’s very focused, very confident. He comes into the meeting room confident. When he breaks up down, he’s very confident.
“When he goes out there, he always delivers.’’
Brissett exploited Houston’s decision to play early man-to-man coverage and the absence of starting corners Bradley Roby (out with a hamstring injury) and Johnathan Joseph (who exited the game with an injury). He spread his completions among eight teammates and dished out two TDs to Pascal and one each to Eric Ebron (a masterful one-handed, toe-tapper) and Hilton.
“When the whole Andrew Luck thing (went down), we already knew he was ready for this,’’ said Pascal, who finished with a career-high 106 yards on six catches.
“Nobody flinched. Nothing like that.’’
All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard sealed the victory with a tipped interception with 26 seconds remaining, then added another voice to Brissett’s support.
Was there every any doubt Brissett could carry this team with his arm?
“What did he have, four touchdowns?’’ Leonard asked. “You tell me what you saw. Yeah, you tell me what you saw.
“How many interceptions?’’
“Thank you. Thank you,’’ Leonard said with a smile.
Sunday was the latest step in Brissett unquestionably wrapping his hands around an offense that once belonged to Luck.
Here’s something to rattle around in your mind. At this point last year, the Colts were 1-5 with Luck under center. Now, they’re 4-2 with Brissett and have sole possession of first place in the AFC South for the first time since week 9 of the 2015 season.
That’s shade at Luck. It’s props to Brissett and general manager Chris Ballard surrounding him with a better top-to-bottom roster.
For five games, the Colts were a run-heavy bunch that followed the lead of Marlon Mack and a dominant offensive line. On this afternoon, though, the Texans made it clear Mack would not be allowed to duplicate his 148-yard performance in the first-round of playoffs in January. They stacked the box, jammed the rushing lanes and limited Mack to 44 yards on 18 carries.
Reich anticipated tough sledding on the ground – not this tough, but tough nonetheless – and realized the game’s outcome probably rested on the right arm of Brissett. That was a talking point during Saturday night’s team meeting.
“We had to throw today,’’ Reich said. “I felt we’d run it a little bit better than we did, but we said if we’re going to win this game, we’re going to have to come up big in the pass game.
“We did that and Jacoby led the way.’’
The opening drive set the tone. Reich dialed up nine passes on the 12 plays. Brissett completed five for 82 yards, and gave the Colts a 7-0 lead with an 11-yard touchdown to Zach Pascal.
Did we mention Brissett was the game-long offensive catalyst? On Indy’s four scoring drives, he was just short of a perfect passer: 21-of-28, 292 yards, four TDs, a 147.6 rating.
Everything wasn’t clean. Although Brissett was sacked only once, the Texans got to him for eight hits. J.J. Watt was credited with six of the hits, and came away impressed.
“He obviously did a good job,’’ Watt said. “They won the game. Like I said, he did a good job. We got after him and hit him a bunch. Sometimes he gets the ball out while he is getting hit.
“Every time he gets hit he pops up and keeps playing. Like I said, I respect that toughness and respect the way he plays. . . . give him all the credit for it.’’
“He just played well,’’ he said. “He’s been playing well the whole year.’’
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