It’s time to start taking the Indianapolis Colts seriously. And as we do, it’s time to start looking at Jacoby Brissett through different lenses.
Matched up with the AFC South-rival Houston Texans on Sunday, Brissett produced a career day while directing the Colts to a 30-23 victory that moved them into first place in the division.
Brissett threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs, for a passer rating of 126.7. With that performance, he showed he’s more than a place-holder while the Colts figure out how to move on from the abrupt end of the Andrew Luck era.
Brissett proved he’s the answer at quarterback because he can win big games with his arm and his wits.
It became immediately clear on Sunday that Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's plan consisted of stacking the box to stop Colts running back Marlon Mack. For Indianapolis to have a chance, Brissett was going to have to assume a heavy workload.
Accepting the challenge, Colts coach Frank Reich put the ball in Brissett’s hands, and the fourth-year passer responded with his second 300-yard day of the season and the third of his career.
“Jacoby played lights out," Reich told reporters on Sunday. "We said if we're gonna win this game, we're gonna have to come up big in the pass game. We talked about that last night as an offense that we needed to make plays in the pass game to win this game, and we did that. And Jacoby led the way."
With 14 touchdown passes, Brissett is now only one behind the league leaders despite having played one fewer game.
Week 7 winners, losers: Aaron Rodgers now in MVP race; Mitchell Trubisky looks lost
Brissett might have turned heads on Sunday, but no one within the Colts organization was surprised by his latest performance.
Although Luck’s retirement sent shock waves throughout the league, panic did not grip the Colts.
Brissett already had earned teammates’ respect with the resilience he displayed filling in for Luck during the 2017 season. And while Brissett operated as the starter with Luck rehabbing again this past offseason and training camp, teammates appreciated the way he works, the confidence with which he carries himself and the progress he steadily made.
“It helped a lot that he had all the reps and was able to get accustomed to all the play calls in the offseason,” wide receiver T.Y. Hilton told USA TODAY Sports in a recent interview.
The 4-12 record from that 2017 campaign didn’t represent Brissett’s ceiling, and those losses weren’t all his fault. Brissett naturally had growing pains to work through as a first-time starter and second-year pro. But Indianapolis’ roster at that time was not as well-rounded as it is now.
“This is the best roster the Colts have ever had,” Hilton said.
Now that he has greater support, a matured Brissett is better able to showcase his skills while affirming the beliefs of those within his organization and earning respect around the league.
Teammate Justin Houston on Sunday told reporters that Brissett is not a game manager, but rather a game-changer.
Now in back-to-back games, Brissett has helped lead the Colts to statement wins over 2018 playoff teams after vanquishing the Kansas City Chiefs last week. Given Brissett's steady progression, Reich’s strengths as a game-planner and the well-rounded roster, Indianapolis has good reason to believe the team can contend with any other in the league.
We’re just about at the halfway point of the season, and there are three clear-cut choices — and possibly a fourth — for MVP.
Quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers all seem deserving. And Patrick Mahomes does as well, although his case could take a hit if he is out for a significant amount of time after suffering a knee injury last Thursday — although any absence could further confirm his importance to the Chiefs.
Rodgers’ growing comfort in Matt LaFleur’s system is evident. On Sunday, he torched the Oakland Raiders for five touchdowns and 429 yards. He and the Green Bay Packers look like a lock for the playoffs after missing the postseason the last two years.
Meanwhile, no passer has made a leap similar to Jackson’s from a production and leadership standpoint. He's the picture of a game-changer and is on pace to rush for 1,300 yards, which would break Michael Vick's single-season record for a quarterback by nearly 300 yards, while posting a passer rating of 94.1.
Ravens coaches wanted Jackson to shoulder a larger role this year while a young defense gelled, and the second-year pro is delivering.
No one is more efficient than Wilson, who is on pace to throw for nearly 4,500 yards while ranking among the league leaders in completion percentage (68.3%) and passer rating (114.1).
Battle for No. 1 pick
Mark your calendars for the Week 14 matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins, because that very well could decide the 2019 Toilet Bowl.
The Dolphins have long been viewed as a candidate for 0-16, but the Bengals are just as bad, if not worse. Short on talent and directed by a young coaching staff, the Bengals rank among the league's lowest in every major statistical category. Andy Dalton has people calling for his job. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have come close to winning in the last two weeks.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.
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