A solemn Andrew Luck walking off the field of Lucas Oil Stadium to a chorus of boos seemingly sounded the death knell for the Indianapolis Colts. The 29-year-old quarterback’s early retirement prompted longtime fans to treat his exit like a eulogy to their playoff hopes, while blatantly ignoring the prospective potential burning beneath the surface in backup Jacoby Brissett.
Luck might have left the building, but Lady Luck is still clinging to life within the hallowed halls that Peyton Manning built—two years after Colts general manager Chris Ballard shipped Phillip Dorsett to the New England Patriots in exchange for Brissett, a former third-round draft pick out of North Carolina State.
No, Brissett isn’t going to be the next Manning. He might not even be the next Luck. However, what the Colts are getting in return for the departure of two generational talents is a mobile quarterback with a high football IQ, capable of making the right reads and tough throws.
Keep sleeping on Brissett’s Colts. You might Rip Van Winkle yourself into January with them competing in the playoffs.
The Colts are far from a dead in the water team in a messy AFC South division with more questions than answers.
Blake Bortles was finally given the boot from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and now, they’re being led by Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles, who has yet to prove his effectiveness can last over the course of an entire season.
The Tennessee Titans have an injury-prone quarterback behind center playing on an expiring contract in Marcus Mariota. Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is the most talented player of the bunch, and he just lost his bell-cow running back. Not to mention his No. 2 wideout Will Fuller hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy, which could potentially mean another year of force-feeding the ball to DeAndre Hopkins.
Meanwhile, the pieces around Brissett were assembled with Super Bowl contention in mind. Ballard has worked hard to clean up Ryan Grigson’s mess in a desperate attempt to make the Colts relevant again.
The offensive line has gone from atrocious to being projected as one of the top-five best units in the league. There are weapons across the board at the offensive skilled positions, particularly at receiver with four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton, former Carolina Panther Devin Funchess and rookie speedster Parris Campbell.
At tight end, Eric Ebron returns after registering a career-season with 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns. Then there is Marlon Mack coming out of the backfield. The Colts running back only appeared in 12 games last season and still rushed for 908 yards and nine touchdowns. It’s completely fair to assume he’s on tap for a 1,000-plus yard season in 2019.
More importantly, however, Ballard rolled up his sleeves and gutted the moribund defense. Along with constantly getting body-slammed by opposing defensive linemen, Luck always had the pressure of winning shootouts to make up for the many deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball.
That won’t be the case for Brissett playing opposite of the reconstructed Colts defense, which jumped from 30th in total defense to 11th in 2018. The Colts are knocking on the door of championship contention for more reasons than just Luck dropping back and throwing the football.
Brissett deserves an opportunity to run the offense with a clean slate.
Forget about the ugly 2017 season, when he was hastened into the role of a starter after Luck went down with an injury. He was essentially traded to the Colts and thrown to the wolves behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. That little experiment ended with him getting sacked a league-high 52 times, which was a far worse beating than Luck took the previous year.
The massive improvements from Brissett have been evident throughout training camp and in the preseason. He’s calmer and more relaxed in the pocket, and he’s willing to step into his throws downfield, instead of always looking for an opportunity to run with the football. That’s the sort of maturity that could still drag the Colts to the promised land.
Make no mistake, Brissett can’t save the Colts, but he is certainly capable of putting them in a positon to save themselves. They are no longer a helpless team wholly dependent on the arm of one man. The Luck and Manning days are over and done with in Indy.
Brissett, who has spent his short NFL career being everyone’s present and no one’s future, will get his first real shot at being a franchise quarterback. No one would have ever guessed that would be the headline going into the 2019 season.
Yet, it doesn’t make it any less intriguing.
Brissett has essentially gone from a third-string backup to Patriots legendary quarterback Tom Brady to being traded for a perceived first-round bust of a receiver, before eventually stepping up as the successor for a now retired Andrew Luck.
How ironic that Luck’s exit might have spurned Brissett’s arrival—and with him, one of the greatest football stories ever told.