Focus shines on Jacoby Brissett as Colts face last-ditch effort to end death spiral

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 16: Quarterback Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts drops back to pass against the New Orleans Saints during the game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on December 16, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A season that once held so much promise has been reduced to two games and a last-ditch effort to end a death spiral and finish 8-8.

There’s plenty of blame to go around: shoddy special teams (kicking and protection); a defense that has given up 966 total yards and 763 passing yards and eight TD passes the last two weeks; and a quarterback who barely resembles the guy who was so efficient during the Indianapolis Colts’ 5-2 start.

No matter the issues, the focus always shines brightest on the QB. Always.

And it’s shining brightest, sharpest, on Jacoby Brissett in the aftermath of Monday night’s 34-7 beat-down at the hands of the Saints in New Orleans that wasn’t remotely competitive.

“I do feel I have first-hand experience at that,’’ Frank Reich said Tuesday. “I know the quarterback gets too much credit when things go well and I know he gets too much blame when things don’t go well.

“Now that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get a lot of praise. That doesn’t mean he’s not responsible for his own individual play and missed plays. Jacoby had a couple of those last night. Everybody had a couple.’’

But again, offensively everything rises and falls with the quarterback.

Lately, they’ve been falling.

Brissett’s bottom line against the Saints was unacceptable – 18-of-34, 165 yards – but looked better than it actually was. In the first half, he was just 5-of-15 for 69 yards.

The Colts’ first possession stalled when Brissett missed a wide-open Zach Pascal on third-and-9. The second drive fizzled when he sailed a second-and-8 pass over T.Y. Hilton’s head and nearly had a third-and-8 to Jack Doyle intercepted. The third drive essentially was sabotaged when Brissett airmailed a second-and-10 pass over the head of Jordan Wilkins.

To that point, Drew Brees and the Saints had yet to stretch their legs. Brees’ ridiculously-efficient game – an NFL-record 29-of-30, 307 yards, 4 TDs – only seemed to magnify Brissett’s travails.

“I missed a couple of throws,’’ he said after the game. “I couldn’t get into a rhythm. It starts with me and playing better. It’s a trickle-down.’’

Reich’s support of Brissett is unwavering. He was asked if the Colts might turn to some younger players over the final two games since the playoffs are out of reach. Might they give Chad Kelly some significant reps?

“No,’’ Reich said without hesitation. “Jacoby’s our quarterback and we’re fighting to get better.

“We’ve got two games (remaining). That’s really an opportunity for him to work to get better.’’

It’s a time for the offensive staff to consider subtle changes that might be advantageous next season.

“We need to learn to get better,’’ Reich said, quickly adding Brissett is “our quarterback. We need him in there to work through those things.’’

As much as the team remains in Brissett’s corner, there’s no denying he hasn’t been the same since. . . well, perhaps since he sprained the MCL in his left knee Nov. 3 at Pittsburgh. He missed the second half of the 26-24 loss and the following 16-12 loss to Miami.

There’s no denying the MCL injury represents a glaring line of demarcation.

Prior to the injury, Brissett completed 64.8 percent of his passes with 14 TDs, 3 interceptions and a 99.7 rating.

After the injury, he’s a 58.5 percent passer with 4 TDs, 3 interceptions and a 77.9 rating.

Brissett has dismissed the notion the injury has impacted his performance.

Tuesday, Reich seemed to give it a touch of credence.

“Something I’m sure that has to be considered,’’ he said. “But to the best of my knowledge, he’s been 100 percent the last few weeks.

“Jacoby comes out on the field and it seems like he’s healthy to me. Could it be affecting him? I suppose.’’

Reich pointed to 2017 when Brissett started the final 15 games and was sacked 52 times and routinely beaten up.

“There’s few guys as physically tough as him,’’ he said. “He never complains about anything. It never looks like anything’s bothering him.’’

But something’s up with the Colts’ most influential player.

Brissett’s struggles over the second half of the season must be taken into account when general manager Chris Ballard and Reich determine the path forward at the position. Is Brissett the QB of the future? Or is that guy in what appears to be a QB-deep NFL Draft?

Less than 12 hours after the Monday night humiliation in front of a national audience, Reich and Brissett were sequestered in Reich’s office at the team’s West 56th Street complex.

“We had a long talk,’’ Reich said. “We talked about all the good. We talked about the bad. There’s no mistake that gets sloughed off.

“We go through everything and we talk about everything and we coach through everything. That’s just what it takes to be at the top level of any profession. It’s not like because we believe in somebody, they don’t get a free pass. We grind on guys. We push guys to get better.’’

Trouble is, the Colts and Brissett aren’t getting better.

Autry has concussion

Defensive lineman Denico Autry is in the NFL’s concussion protocol after experiencing concussion symptoms following the game.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

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