I can’t sit here and say that, 30 days ago when Andrew Luck retired, I’d have seen coming what Jacoby Brissett did to the Falcons on Sunday. Nor would I have forecast that morning that the 26-year-old Colts quarterback was going to start his afternoon with 16 straight completions, and finish it with 310 passing yards, a 118.1 rating, and two scores in a shootout of a win, riddling a defense that punished Carson Wentz a week earlier.
But I do know someone who did.
“I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m really not,” Colts coach Frank Reich said over the phone, fighting through traffic to head home in the 5 o’clock hour. “Jacoby and I were talking [Saturday morning], and I told him he had about as good a week of practice as a quarterback can have. I mean, in our Thursday practice, it’s like it was perfection from the quarterback position.
“We meet every Saturday morning. I just felt like, ‘Man, you are in the zone.’ He was in the zone all week. The way he practiced, it certainly showed up in how he played.”
Did it ever. By the time the Falcons got on the board, Brissett had already engineered three scoring drives, two of more than 90 yards, putting his Colts firmly in control at 13-0. And when that control wavered in the fourth quarter, it was the quarterback himself who put his foot on Atlanta’s throat.
This wasn’t a team managing a quarterback with its running game. The Colts finished with just 79 yards on 24 carries, after rushing for 203 and 167 yards the first two weeks of the season, respectively.
It also wasn’t a team building margin of error for its young signal-caller with a signature defensive effort. A good Indy defense yielded touchdown drives of 75, 78, and 71 yards on the Falcons’ first three possessions of the second half.
No, on this day, the Colts needed Brissett to load the team on his back. And he obliged.
“The Falcons did a great job early on of stopping our run,” Reich said. “Obviously, we think that’s hard to do. He was hot. We just rode his hot hand. What’s optimal is when you can go in and have an offense where, if we’re running it and it doesn’t seem like they can stop us, we’ll run it to win. But today was the first win that Jacoby had to play great for us to win this game. And he did.”
On a day for young quarterbacks across the NFL—surprise!—it might’ve been the one no one was touting, or even paying much attention to, a month ago who came up biggest.
Week 3 was the kind of Sunday we’ve all longed for through spring and summer. So we’ve got a lot of ground to cover on this Monday morning. We’ll be looking at:
• Teddy Bridgewater’s re-entry to the world of starting quarterbacking, and what it means to him and the Saints to be here again.
• Daniel Jones’s come-from-behind performance in Tampa, which should quiet all his critics in New York (for at least 48 hours or so).
• Another quarterbackno one’s talking about, who shone on Thursday in Florida.
• The Matt Patricia redemption game.
But we’re starting with Luck’s replacement in Indianapolis, and how all the self-assuredness coming out of that place in the aftermath now makes more sense.
Last Sunday in Nashville, there was a moment when Brissett made his way over to Reich and made a concession—I’m struggling right now. The exact moment in which it happened during the Colts’ hard-fought 19-17 win over the Titans doesn’t really matter. What does is that in this moment when a lot of young quarterbacks might project false bravado, Brissett not only figured out he needed a hand, but he actively pursued help.
Ultimately, coach and quarterback got things straightened out. And to the guy on the receiving of the questions, it was just another example of why he and the rest of the Colts brass were able to turn the page, even if it hurt, when Luck walked away.
“He just has a maturity about him that is rare and a leadership quality that is rare,” Reich said. “It’s a deep belief and conviction in the player he is, but he’s a really, really humble human being.”
And in the next breath, Reich reiterated, on how Brissett has handled all this: “It’s just not surprising to me.”
As for how Brissett played on Sunday, specifically, that didn’t stun Reich either, largely because he’d seen that perfect week of practice—the kind of week during which a quarterback’s accuracy shows up because he’s fundamentally where he needs to be, locked into his preparation, and working with urgency.
So how did it translate on Sunday?
First, there were examples where Brissett had to be patient and buy time for his receivers, when plays didn’t develop as planned. One happened on a sticks-moving crossing route to Deon Cain in the second quarter; another came on a 16-yard catch-and-run to Mo Alie-Cox in the fourth quarter, to convert a second-and-15.
Second, there were points where Brissett had to make the right reads and checks—and that happened, most critically, on the game-clinching play for the Colts. That was a third-and-4, with less than two minutes to go. The Colts had called a modified RPO. At the snap, Brissett stuck the ball in Marlon Mack’s belly, pulled it quickly, saw the defense closing on him, and popped it over two defenders and into Jack Doyle’s hands in the right flat.
Doyle easily collected the first down, slid, and the game was over.
The call itself was another example of the coaches’ growing faith in their new starting quarterback. In fact, even a week earlier, they showed they weren’t quite ready to put that trust in Brissett—they ran three straight times around the two-minute warning, to bleed clock and force Tennessee to burn its last timeout. On this afternoon, they went the other way, and Brissett rewarded it.
"It’s complete trust and confidence in him and in our offense,” Reich said. “Last week we went for it on fourth-and-half-yard and got the quarterback sneak. That was a big deal, but we were mad. We were mad we didn’t finish the game with the ball in our hands. We gave the Titans a chance to come back. When we got in to talk about that, it was good, but it wasn’t good enough. We need to finish the game with the ball in our hands.
“[Coordinator] Nick Sirriani and I talked before that series and then talked with Jacoby and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be aggressive right here. We’re not gonna hold back. We’re not gonna be afraid to call passes.’ But you’ve got to put that in Jacoby’s hands. And he handled it flawlessly.”
Reich, himself a former player, concedes now that Brissett’s teammates probably needed to see a game like this from their quarterback to grow the confidence in him they’ll need down the line. And there was plenty for them to like on Sunday.
The 16 straight completions to start the game included some shots—it wasn’t all dink-and-dunk. There was a deep back-shoulder throw to T.Y. Hilton, and a deep over to Eric Ebron that reinforced what everyone had seen during the week.
Then there was the aforementioned play when it was time to close the Falcons out, and that set-out goal accomplished. As they’d hoped, Indy kept Atlanta from getting another shot, after the Falcons closed to within 27-24 with 4:11 left. The Colts’ next possession ended witb Brissett taking three knees.
It was all there to see for teammates who are still less than a month out from having lost Luck.
“The short answer is yes,” Reich said, when I asked if was important that the players get this kind of evidence from their quarterback. “He’s played well in two games. Part of the development of a quarterback, or at any position, is ultimately you’ve got to be able to have that kind of big-time performance. Today was a big step in that direction.”
The best part, for Indy, is that there weren’t many bumps to ride out to get here. With September winding down, the Colts are tied for first in the AFC South.
BRIDGEWATER’S LONG WAIT PAYS OFF
Teddy Bridgewater had been through too much to get back here, to the doorstep of his first meaningful start in nearly four years, to stand emotionless on Sunday afternoon. The Saints’ for-now starter wasn’t about to hold back on whatever hit him.
“Yeah, I definitely thought about it,” he said over the phone on Sunday night. “And during the pregame, they were singing the national anthem, I had a couple tears roll down my eyes, and I just had a moment there.”
It was September 2016 when Bridgewater, the third-year QB who’d taken the Vikings to the playoffs the previous season, suffered a torn ACL, a knee-joint dislocation and other structural damage to his left leg in a freakish practice injury. There was concern he’d never play again. He missed all of 2016 and most of 2017 before settling in as a backup to Case Keenum for the playoffs. He signed with the Jets in March 2018, played well enough in the preseason that the Saints traded for him that August, and he’s now in his second year in New Orleans.
So after all that time, and more than a year backing up Drew Brees, Bridgewater earned that emotional moment. And with Brees on the shelf probably until early November after thumb surgery, he was going to appreciate it.
“Whenever you have that opportunity, you just want to make sure you cherish it and take full advantage of it,” Bridgewater said.
He did on Sunday by keeping the Saints going in Brees’ stead, operating efficiently and effectively, completing 19 of 27 throws for 177 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. The defense played well, too, and Alvin Kamara (25 touches, 161 yards) took plenty of pressure off the 26-year-old quarterback.
That leaves New Orleans at 2-1, with Dallas coming to town next week for a big one. After that, the Saints’ schedule is pretty manageable to the Week 9 bye—Bucs, at Jags, at Bears, Cardinals—after which Brees will likely be in play to return.