INDIANAPOLIS – Stick around long enough and you’re likely to be exposed to something new.
Welcome to the club, Frank Reich.
His NFL career as a player and coach spans nearly three decades and has included stints with eight franchises, but this season has him dabbling in something unique: occasionally pulling his QB1 to maximize the skillset of his QB2.
“This is new for me,’’ Reich said Monday on a Zoom conference call.
Instrumental in Sunday’s 34-31 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers was Philip Rivers (QB1) yielding the offense to Jacoby Brissett (QB2) when the short-yardage situation warranted.
On three of the four short-yardage plays, Brissett’s presence contributed to first downs. Jonathan Taylor and Jordan Wilkins converted the first two, but Brissett took care of a fourth-and-1 from the Packers 46 with a 4-yard sneak. Also, Brissett followed up Wilkins’ 8-yard run that moved the chains in the third quarter with a 5-yard read-option keeper around left end.
Brissett’s influence on his first three appearances kept scoring drives alive and led to a pair of Rivers’ touchdown passes – 17 yards to Trey Burton and 6 yards to Jack Doyle – and a Rodrigo Blankenship field goal.
In the previous game at Tennessee, Brissett replaced Rivers for a third-and-1 at the Titans 2 and powered in for a 2-yard TD.
This was the plan all along after the Colts signed Rivers to a one-year, $25 million contract in March and kept Brissett as their $21 million backup. While it was clear the team wanted an upgrade at the position following last season’s 7-9 finish, Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni realized Brissett possessed intriguing qualities.
Short-yardage packages were designed, but barely utilized. Brissett’s first two plays, in fact, failed. He was sacked on a second-and-2 at the Jacksonville 2 in the opener and was penalized for intentional grounding against Baltimore.
“Our initial experiment with it didn’t go well, and so that makes you hit the pause button a second,’’ Reich said of the failed attempt against the Jaguars.
Another reason for not making fuller use of Brissett in short-yardage and goal-line situations earlier in the season was allowing Rivers to settle in as the starter.
“We just needed to let Philip establish himself,’’ Reich said, “and that’s happened now.
“It just feels like the right thing to do. I think we’ll continue to build off of it.’’
When an expanded role for Brissett against the Packers was put in place, Reich approached Rivers.
“I naturally called Philip and had a brief conversation with him about it and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do. You good?’’’ Reich said. “I mean just more out of respect than anything else. Got nothing but, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. That’s a good move.’’’
Not all starting quarterbacks might be as receptive.
“It is a unique situation because not everybody is that thrilled about giving up plays,’’ Reich said. “It’s really a credit to both those guys.
“It’s a unique situation where Philip’s at in his career and the fact he’s coming to a team where he knows Jacoby was the starter last year.’’
Rivers insisted he’s developed a friendship with Brissett and an appreciation for how he handled the demotion. The latter includes running the scout offense to prepare the defense for the upcoming opponent.
“He’s been a real asset,’’ Rivers said. “In that third-and-2 mode, being able to run and go get it. Truly, whatever is best and we believe that we had a little package this week that was fitting, and he did a nice job executing.’’
Rivers suffered an injury to his right big toe in the second half that sent him into the blue medical tent and resulted in Brissett taking a few snaps in normal situations.
He acknowledged after the game he probably was in store for a “sore week, but I anticipate being fine.’’
“Talked to him today, and it’s pretty sore,’’ Reich said. “We’ll have to see as the week goes on.’’
More medical matters
Right tackle Braden Smith saw his streak of 39 consecutive starts end after he suffered an injury to his right thumb last week in practice. The team attempted to find some type of apparatus for Smith to use on the thumb that would allow him to play but was unsuccessful.
“We couldn’t find a way to protect his thumb that he could get comfortable,’’ Reich said. “Hopefully it gets better. We’ll experiment with it every day.
“As soon as he gets to the point he can function and do what he’s got to do with his right hand, then he’ll be back out there.’’
Last season, Smith suffered a thumb injury that required surgery on a Monday, but he still was in the starting lineup that following Sunday.
“Braden being Braden,’’ Reich said.
Also, Reich believed linebacker Anthony Walker is fine after he apparently was shaken up late in the game.
It’s uncertain if Denico Autry will be available for Sunday’s rematch with the Tennessee Titans. The veteran defensive end was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last Friday after testing positive for the virus.
According to NFL protocol, a player who tests positive but is asymptomatic is out at least 10 days while a player who displays symptoms is out at least 14 days.
Reich wouldn’t discuss which scenario applies to Autry but added, “if it’s the 10-day window, he is technically available (for the Titans). If it’s the 14-day window, he is not available.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.