INDIANAPOLIS -- When Andrew Luck made his surprise retirement announcement in August, the prevailing wisdom across the league was that things might fall apart for the Indianapolis Colts. But those inside the organization didn’t flinch.
They knew what they had in quarterback Jacoby Brissett. That’s why general manager Chris Ballard, while disappointed by Luck's decision, didn’t hesitate to say he believed Brissett could step into the starting quarterback job and keep the Colts competitive. That’s also why Ballard gave Brissett a two-year contract before he even took a snap in a regular-season game.
But no matter what Brissett did during the first five games of the season, the question still remained: Could the Colts be successful when the defenses dared him to throw?
Brissett silenced many of those doubters when he threw for a career-high 326 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions against the Houston Texans on Sunday. He joined Luck, Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas as the only Colts quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns without having an interception.
“I’ve been telling y’all all the time,” Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “That’s him. He’s very focused, very confident. ... When he comes in meeting rooms, he’s very confident. Then he goes out there and he delivers.”
The scouting report was out on the Colts, who went into Week 7 having run the ball on 48 percent of their offensive snaps this season. That’s a high percentage of running plays in the modern NFL, even with one of the top offensive lines in the NFL and a running back in Marlon Mack who is on pace to top 1,000 yards rushing this season.
That’s why the Houston Texans immediately dared the Colts to beat them in the air by playing man-to-man defense with just one safety over the top to help.
Brissett had no problem stepping up to that challenge. Head coach Frank Reich called nine passes on their opening 12-play, 94-yard drive that ended with a Brissett touchdown pass to receiver Zach Pascal. The Colts threw the ball on 40 of their 67 offensive plays Sunday.
"It says he's legit," Reich said. "He's the man. We've believed that from Day 1. We've never wavered in our conviction on Jacoby. We all know; he knew it, too. You've still got to prove it. You've still got to put the offense on your back for this game and make the plays he made to win this game. He did it as well as you can do it."
Brissett’s 14 touchdown passes in six games already surpasses the 13 he threw in 15 games in 2017. The only quarterbacks who have thrown for more touchdowns than Brissett this season are Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.
The most important stat to Brissett and the Colts? They currently sit atop at the AFC South with a 4-2 record with him as their starting quarterback.
“He’s definitely not a game manager,” Colts defensive end Justin Houston said about Brissett. “He’s a game changer. That’s big for us to have one of those guys on our team. And he’s still growing. Sky’s the limit.”
Brissett, who will turn 27 in December, refers to his situation as a “journey.” That journey started when he was acquired from New England a week before the start of the regular season in 2017. He became the starter for the final 15 games. Last season, he was relegated to being one of the celebration teammates after a big play when Luck returned. Then he took about every snap with the first team this past offseason and training camp before officially becoming the starter in late August.
“The playing time in 2017 was valuable to him,” Colts backup quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “There’s nothing like live game reps. He took that year and learned so much. You can see it in his calmness and demeanor. He’s well prepared. Physically he can do everything he needs to do. He’s tough as s---. The thing that has impressed me the most is his demeanor, his positive attitude. He never lets anything bother him. He stays level.”
Brissett, like Luck, worked with throwing coach Tom House on his mechanics. One of the aspects in which he had to improve was putting some touch on his passes. Brissett at times was like a baseball pitcher who could only throw a fastball. His receivers mentioned that to him in an attempt to get him to lighten up on some of his throws.
“As receivers, you have to have that connection with your quarterback,” tight end Eric Ebron said. “It’s nothing disrespectful. It’s just what needs to happen, what needs to be done. You go up to your star quarterback and you tell him, ‘Hey bro, if you take a little bit off on this throw, we’ll be all right.’ It’s just talking to your quarterback.
“Sometimes he’s in the game and he’s antsy and he wants to get the ball out his hands. We understand that. But once he gets his confidence and understands it, this route is for this throw right here. It’s good to see that because it means you have a quarterback that’s listening to you and that wants to be good as well. Nobody should be questioning Jacoby Brissett’s ability, because I know we’re not doing it, and that’s the most important thing.”