Jacoby Brissett struggles to the bitter end

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 29: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts looks at a loose ball after fumbling during the fourth quarter of a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on December 29, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Jacoby Brissett did nothing Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville to tamp down the mounting criticism aimed at the Indianapolis Colts’ most influential player.

And that would be Jacoby Brissett.

In fact, he handed more incriminating evidence to his detractors.

While the Colts were ending a disappointing season with a humbling 38-20 loss to the Jaguars, Brissett went out with a whimper as well: 12-of-25, 166 yards, a 69.1 rating.

And if last impressions are the most indelible, consider Brissett’s second-half numbers: 3-of-11, 40 yards. He also lost two fumbles in the fourth quarter the Jaguars turned into 14 quick points; Calais Campbell returned the first 8 yards for a touchdown.

As has been the case as Brissett’s solid start to the season has disintegrated into an inefficient mess, Frank Reich had his QB’s back. He was asked about Brissett’s culpability in the Colts’ second-half fade, not only against the Jaguars but in other games this season.

“It’s a team deal,’’ Reich said. “I understand the question and how it has to focus around the quarterback. But the way I see it is it’s a team deal.

“That’s the hardest position to play in the sport to play and I think our second-half struggles are team struggles. I don’t think they’re on any one player. I don’t see them being on Jacoby. We all need to better.’’

That clearly includes Brissett.

“Does he need to be better? Yeah, he needs to make one or two more plays,’’ Reich said. “I need to be better. Our offensive line needs to be better. Our defense needs to be better. Special teams needs to be better.’’

After Andrew Luck shocked the Colts and the NFL by retiring Aug. 24, Brissett took control of the offense. He was one of the catalysts as the team got off to a 5-2 start by completing 64.8 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 99.7 rating.

But in the last seven games and after spraining the MCL in his left knee at Pittsburgh, Brissett’s season has been in a death spiral: 119-of-211 (56.4 percent) for 1,297 yards, four TDs, three interceptions and a 75.1 rating.

Brissett has completed less than 53 percent of his passes in each of his last four games. Excluding the Steelers game, he’s passed for fewer than 200 yards in eight of 14 starts this season and in 14 of 30 starts as a Colt.

Brissett once again insisted the knee injury hasn’t been a factor even though offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and position coach Marcus Brady said the injury at least initially fouled up Brissett’s throwing mechanics.

“No, I don’t think so at all,’’ he said.

Reich took issue with the increased scrutiny on Brissett.

“Absolutely I think there’s unfair criticism,’’ he said. “But that’s just playing the position. You’re always going to get unfair criticism. He knows that. We all know that. You guys know it, too. But we’ve all got a job to do and he’s got a job to do. As a quarterback you just take that.

“And he gets too much credit. When we were doing great and we’re 5-2, it was like, ‘Andrew who?’ for seven games. He was playing that good. Yeah, he’s going to get unfair criticism, but I get that. That’s just part of nature of the beast.’’

Brissett insisted he hasn’t heard the criticism.

“Not at all, not at all,’’ he said. “It exists in everybody’s job. It exists in your job, his job, his job.’’

He pointed to members of the media.

“We’re all going to get criticized,’’ he said. “That’s what people do. They criticize things that they don’t do because they can’t do it.

“I honestly don’t even pay it any attention. I’ve got other things to worry about.’’

So does Reich and general manager Chris Ballard.

The Colts will finish with a top-4 running game for the first time since 1994. But the passing game has languished near the bottom of the NFL all season. It averaged just 194.3 net yards per game, the team’s fewest since 2017, when the Brissett-led passing game averaged 180.9.

Since 1996, the passing game has averaged fewer than 200 yards only four times: 2019, 2017, 2011 (187.2) and 1997 (196.4). Consider the contributing factors each time: Luck retired prior to the start of this season and missed ’17 with his shoulder issues, Peyton Manning missed ’11 with his neck issues and ’97 paved the way for Manning’s arrival.

Now that the season has ended, the internal discussion regarding the most influential position – quarterback, and Jacoby Brissett – can begin in earnest.

With that, we’ll remind everyone the Colts hold the 13th overall pick in the April NFL Draft.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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