When Andrew Luck surprised the NFL world on Aug. 24, confirming an ESPN report that he was retiring because of the physical and mental strain of recovering from yet another injury, Indianapolis Colts fans were mad.
Those in the stands for the team’s preseason game against the Chicago Bears that night booed Luck as he walked off the field with teammates, after word spread through social media that Luck and Indianapolis had scheduled a Sunday news conference to discuss his decision (he held it that night instead) after he’d address teammates.
Some called the team’s offices demanding a refund on season tickets.
But if Sunday is any indication, the Colts won’t fall off the cliff as many first believed.
Jacoby Brissett plays well
The Colts did lose their season opener to the Los Angeles Chargers, 30-24. But they lost on the road, in overtime, to a team considered one of the best in the AFC.
And the one player who seemed like the biggest question mark, the one that was portrayed by some as a scrub who hadn’t played quarterback since 10th grade who was going to be asked to replace Luck, he played well.
Jacoby Brissett completed 21-of-27 passes (77.8 percent) for 190 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions; he was sacked twice. It all added up to a quarterback rating of 120.7.
Brissett was sacked on Indianapolis’ first possession, on third-and-9, that came after a breakdown in protection. Joey Bosa pressured Brissett when he got past right tackle Braden Smith, and right guard Mark Glowinski did little to slow Melvin Ingram, who took down Brissett.
Bosa sacked Brissett on first down late in the third quarter.
Really, if kicker Adam Vinatieri hadn’t had a rare off day — a very off day — the Colts may have flown home to the Hoosier State with a W.
“He did terrific today,” receiver T.Y. Hilton said of Brissett. “We just have to be better.”
Test passed: Game-tying drive
Brissett passed his biggest test of the afternoon: With 8:30 left in the fourth quarter, after teammate Malik Hooker intercepted Philip Rivers in the end zone, he stepped into the huddle with the Colts at their own 20 and down by eight points.
Brissett handed off to Marlon Mack on the first two plays of the possession, then Nyheim Hines and back to Mack. They combined for 24 yards on those four carries, and the Colts were making progress.
Then on first down from their own 44, Mack got the ball again, only this time he was dropped for a 5-yard loss. A second-down pass to Hines led to a 7-yard loss.
But facing third-and-22, Brissett completed a 19-yard pass to Hilton over the middle, and converted the fourth down and then some with a sideline pass to Devin Funchess.
In the manner of his former teammate, Tom Brady, Brissett both marched his team down the field and also ate valuable time off the clock.
On first down from the Chargers’ 19, Brissett threw a short pass to Hilton; had Adrian Phillips wrapped Hilton, it would have been a short gain. But Hilton got away from Phillips, Thomas Davis overpursued and wasn’t in position to make the play, and other L.A. defenders weren’t able to get to Hilton before he dove for the left pylon.
Mack barreled his way in for the 2-point conversion and the game was tied with just 38 seconds left in regulation.
Brissett said the pass to Hilton wasn’t the one he initially wanted to make.
“To be honest, I wanted to throw it deep when I saw [Eric Ebron] in the back [of the end zone], and it’s hard to pass that up,” he said. “But [it’s] the discipline and trusting your coaching and trusting technique, and good things will happen.”
Colts coach Frank Reich said the challenge for Brissett was “don’t panic.”
“Don’t think you have to make it all on one play,” Reich said. “Take the underneath stuff when you can. We’re still going to call the run. Don’t try to get greedy on one play. There’s plenty of time. Keep your poise. And he did a great job with that.”
‘I don’t think anybody doubted him’
Ebron expressed confidence in Brissett, saying he made the right calls, and Reich seemed happy too.
Even players who weren’t in the huddle with Brissett liked what they saw from the 26-year-old (who negotiated his recent $30 million contract extension without an agent) in his first official starter.
“If there were any doubts inside or outside the locker room, he kind of erased that and showed he can play on the big stage and accept whatever comes his way,” linebacker Anthony Walker said. “That’s a great [Chargers] defense over there. Not a slouch team. That’s a playoff team from last year. I don’t think anybody in the locker room doubted him. I know I certainly didn’t.”
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